Someone Must Die

Patient: John Q.

Profile: Melodrama posing as “issue” movie about a man pushed too far by health-care industry who takes over hospital to get his son on a transplant recipient list. Think The Hospital meets Dog Day Afternoon meets Torn Between Two Livers: The David Crosby Story.Symptoms: The movie addresses our direst public issue, one that no one talks about these days. John Q. won't get them started because it doesn't want to make us feel uncomfortable. Instead, it deals in easily handled action figures—the good guys are ultragood, and the bad guys are Anne Heche—all talking as if they spend their leisure moments reading Rand Corp. white papers. From such a broadly brushed landscape, the film can make its calculatedly naive statement that the health-care problem could be solved if people were just nicer—especially if people with healthy hearts and B-positive blood had the good manners to get T-boned by more 18-wheelers. Yes, John Q. argues that God will take care of everything in the end, which either shows they didn't want to say anything, didn't have anything to say or just got bored. It may be the last since, incredibly, midway through the movie, the health-care issue doesn't provide a big enough platform, so John Q. intervenes in a case of domestic violence, quells racial hatred, and discusses school violence with his hostages (“On the next John Q.: Filmmakers addicted to easy answers . . . PLUS Fat Baby Makeovers!”).

Denzel Washington Diagnosis: In God we trust—all others co-pay. Prescription: This is a horror film. Scare the hell out of people. Judging from my audience, which groaned when they found out the hero's PPO had been switched to HMO, you've already got—like The Exorcist—a built-in bogeyman. But your devil doesn't work on the audience's fears because it's evil. It works because it doesn't care. It's frightening because there is no agenda, just a machine detached, void of compassion and rancor, like the shark from Jaws or Georgia Frontiere. Don't attempt to give us answers. Don't give us people talking about the problem—plop us down in the middle of the wreckage and let us see the elemental, chaotic and circuitously fucked-up nature of the system. Cap this off with—and I know I'll get a call from the boys down in licensing over this—a body. Someone—one of the good guys—has to die: the son or the dad. It is the only logical and true thing to do. We should be terrified, not comforted, by this movie. To that end, show us our worst nightmare: a system that isn't bad because people do their worst, but a system that's lethal despite people doing their best.

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