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Article 99

MGM // R // September 16, 2003
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 19, 2003 | E-mail the Author

Dr. Morgan (Kiefer Sutherland) takes a job interning at a VA hospital with no other thought than using the job as a stepping stone to his own private practice. What he find is a hospital in turmoil: veterans struggling with an unwieldy system in order to get much needed medical treatment, a heartless, by the book administrator, Dreyfoos (John Mahoney), and a segment of the hospital staff (Forest Whitaker, John C McGinley, Lea Thompson) lead by the charismatic Dr. Sturgess (Ray Liotta), who partake in raids to get supplies from other sections (like Pacemakers assigned for use on test animals) and perform unscheduled surgeries for patients too mired in the bureaucracy to get the operations they need.

A pretty good cast, but the actors are saddled with basic or obligatory characters. It also has Jeffrey Tambor in a useless role as a doctor who is a suck up to Dreyfoos. Eli Wallach ias a geriatric veteran who is shuffled throughout the hospital just to keep him in a bed since no treatment will help him. David Keith is a know-it-all veteran who wheels around running interference between the rebel doctors and the uptight staff. And, Kathy Baker is a doctor who is at first resistant but eventually falls for Dr. Sturgess and his ideals.

The finale, where the suspended doctors stage as siege of the hospital with help from the veterans, is a big letdown and way too tidy. It is somewhat softened by the films final line (which is suspiciously a voice-over, perhaps added to make the finale seem like less of a cop-out?). The comedy just isn't very funny, whether it be the wacky raids for supplies or John C McGinley's ones liners, like a patient has a heart attack, he checks his pulse and says "All Quiet on the Western Front" and then yells "Paydirt! Touchdown!" when they shock the man back to life. So, basically, the drama falls flat and so do the jokes.

I'm afraid I'll have to invoke the name of M.A.S.H. in this review, and no, not because of the Sutherland connection. Article 99 (1992) and M.A.S.H. (1970) share the same comic/drama, doctors fighting authority universe. With M.A.S.H., Robert Altman knew he needed to create a sense of rebelliousness down to the films core in order for it to work, and he created a film set that was so seemingly chaotic his actors panicked and tried to get him fired. But, the end result was a film wonderfully balanced and with rebelliousness and anarchists spirit in every frame. His film told a tale of fighting "the system", and the way it was filmed echoed this idea and fought the system of conventional film making.

On the other hand, Article 99 does not have that same spark. Scriptwriter Ron Cutler and director Howard Deutch (Grumpy Old Men, The Great Outdoors, Pretty in Pink) have the best of intentions but none of the spark. Unlike the improvised rebellion of M.A.S.H., Article 99 is too self-consciously aiming to be rebellious and obviously plotted. Rebelliousness is something instinctual, and if it is too conscious like it is in Article 99, then it just appears false and leaden. It is a conventional film wanting desperately to be rebellious. Add to that the uneven nature of the comedy/drama and the characters, and the film fails to touch any of the nerves it wishes it could.

The film comes to hideous halt with some obligatory love interest plotting. It is just tepid and seems to be wedged in for no reason other than such things must always occur in a comedy. I mean, weren't Gross Anatomy and Vital Signs enough? It makes no sense that Liotta's Dr. Sturgess would fall for an ice queen like Kathy Baker's Dr. Walton character, and even further annoys when she, the frigid ice princess, much to his surprise, is suddenly loose and shedding her clothes on the first date. Sutherland and Thompson's characters have flirtation that truly goes nowhere. Little reason is given for why they would be the slightest bit interested in one another, other than the fact the they have, one assumes, corresponding genitalia and it is just part of scriptwriting formula. Every blank scene of their zero chemistry flirting could be removed from the film and it would have no effect on the characters. Once again, the over-sexed doctors of M.A.S.H. behaved like frat guys in the midst of war, balancing out the horror they saw daily, and it worked. In Article 99 it just feels like some throwaway part of the bipolar plot.


Picture: Full-screen standard or 16X9 Widescreen options (It's a flipper). Sharpness and general details are in pretty good shape. The film does appear a tad washed out and the contrast could be much deeper. Likewise, the color palette seems a little weak and fleshtones are quite pallid. Still, for its cost, it is a reasonably good job with little edge enhancement or other technical grumbles. All of its weak points are just weak enough to notice, but not so much as to ruin anyones enjoyment of the film or be tremendously upset with the disc as a purchase. And, no, I didn't even bother to look at the full-screen transfer.

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround or Spanish Mono with optional English, French, or Spanish subtitles. There really isn't much to say. The sound mix isn't particularly impressive. It doesn't really need to be either; it is a very simple affair. Mainly dialogue driven, the voices are all centered on the top of the mix, while minimal sound fx and the score fill out the sides. I guess also of note, is that the score is by Danny Elfman, and it is probably the least memorable Danny Elfman score I've heard.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailer

Conclusion: One of MGM's bare, budget title releases, which will make it an okay purchase for casual buyers and fans. But, really, as far as content goes, this one is only a rental or just catch the sucker on tv.

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