Each new television season brings with it another new medical series. The pilot episode will undoubtedly introduce you to several young doctors, each of whom has their own "distinct" hook: one's an arrogant hotshot, another is a low-income idealist, etc., etc. While there's always an ER or St. Elsewhere to buck the trend, most of these shows go nowhere fast and get quietly canceled after a few short months.
And Vital Signs feels precisely like one of those failed TV dramas.
Digging up practically every single "young doctors sure do have it tough" cliche under the sun, Vital Signs moves from A to B to C as if it's working off of a checklist. There's no spark or originality or even a portion of excitement wedged in amongst the predictable plot threads ... although there are a few surprisingly solid performances by actors who've gone on to (much) bigger and better things.
Jimmy Smits is the doc in charge of a new batch of third-year medical students. There's the arrogant young hotshot (Adrian Pasdar) with a brilliant surgeon (William Devane) for a father; an idealistic hottie (Diane Lane) who must overcome her fear of failure, a snooty resident (Bradley Whitford) who must vie for the hottie's affections when the hotshot comes sniffin' around, and about a half-dozen others who make next to no impression whatsoever.
Try this quiz on for size to see if Vital Signs has any surprises in store for you:
1. Two old friends (a guy and a gal) slip and accidentally have sex together. Will they:
A) fall madly in love and have babies?
B) get really "uncomfortable" around each other, but not uncomfortable enough not to tell all their other friends about the sex, but ultimately decide "Hey, we're better off as friends anyway!"
2. The mega-hot hottie doc has to choose between two fellas. Will she choose:
A) the snide veteran doc who ignores her and expects her to be at his beck and call?
B) the hunky young hotshot who gives her sweaty stand-up sex in the hospital laundry room?
3. The hard-working and generic med student has a wife who pays his tuition by working as a waitress. After he blows her off one time too many, wifey packs her bags and hits the road. Will they:
A) end up in a messy divorce battle?
B) make up all lovey-dovey-like after Dr. Frumpface decides to, y'know, be a little nicer?
All these questions and (a few) more will be trotted out to you during Vital Signs, which is as formulaic a medical drama as you're ever likely to come across. To be fair, the flick is directed in fluid style by Marisa Silver, before the director would move on to more impressive projects. (That's if, of course, you consider the Kevin Bacon comedy He Said, She Said and a TV movie called Indecency "impressive" in any discernible way.) Sad to see that the director of the seriously engaging Permanent Record is now out of the movie biz; Ms. Silver hasn't worked on a movie since 1992.
If you're the sort who adores the "medical soaper," then you'll undoubtedly get more out of Vital Signs than I did. But then again, if you've already seen all the other medical movies and TV series, then there's literally nothing in Vital Signs that you haven't seen before. Which means it might be worth a rental out of curiosity value, but even then, it's only to see gals like Diane Lane and Laura San Giacomo before they hit the big-time. Plus it's always kind of fun to see Bradley Whitford in full-on snivel-mode, so there's an extra bonus right there.
Video: Par for the Fox course, Vital Signs is presented via Widescreen Anamorphic (1.85:1) on side B, and Full Frame freakishness (1.33:1) on side A. Apparently also par for the Fox catalog title course, the WS transfer is not exactly something worth calibrating your video for. It's good enough for the fans of the flick, I suppose, but not by a whole lot.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which isn't half bad for an obscure hospital drama like this one. Spanish and French audio tracks are also offered via DD mono. Optional subtitles in English and Spanish are also available.
Extras: The original theatrical trailer is the only extra goodie.
On its own, Vital Signs is a seriously familiar and entirely predictable tale of young doctors in love. But if you want a real indication of how beholden to formula the movie is, try watching it right after you check out the 1982 spoof Young Doctors in Love, and then you'll get a chuckle out of the fact that Vital Signs hit the screens a full eight years after the satire should have made this flick all but obsolete.