Directed By: Howard Deutch
Written By: Ron Cutler
Produced By: Michael Gruskoff, Michael I. Levy
Cast: Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland, John Mahoney, Kathy Baker, Forest Whitaker
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes
Review Date: February 18, 2011
Article 99 is a really bad movie, but it can be enjoyed under the pretense that inherent within is a truly ludicrous story with outlandish situations, zero note characters, shoddy sets, and bleeding-heart moralism sappy enough to send you into a shudder. No one likes these things in a film, but understand this: There was some incredible, almost magnetic element to this film that prevented me from ever hitting pause to gather my wits. The movie was like a car-wreck, a ballet with calamity, an event so atrociously horrific that it was difficult to look away.
The film derives its name from a fictional precept that prohibits veterans from receiving coverage if they cannot prove their disability is war related. What could have been very timely (especially now, with Obama’s grand pledge) is wasted on a soap-opera of bullshit. For starters, the film takes place in an outmoded V.A. hospital in Kansas City, a facility so worn from its lack of funding they use buckets to capture leakage from the ceiling. To make matters worse, the bureaucracy up top has little interest in updating the hospital, instead funneling their minimal budget into their own pockets. The director of the hospital is Dr. Henry Dreyfoos (John Mahoney), a total ass who has ulterior motives up his sleeve. He finds the staff of the hospital, headed by Dr. Richard Sturgess (Ray Liotta), who is a brilliant and honest surgeon, to be pesky.
Dr. Sturgess, unable to convince the director to grant his team of doctors the proper supplies and money, takes matters into his own hands. He begins to conduct rogue surgeries and steals supplies on “Night Missions” into the supply cabinet. Along with him is a team of wise-ass supporting actors, Dr. Handleman (Forest Whitaker, completely wasted), Dr. Bobrick (John C. McGinley), and his love interest, Dr. Walton (Kathy Baker). There is also the new kid on the block, a mustached yuppie of an intern named Dr. Peter Morgan (Kiefer Sutherland), who happens to be one of the few redeeming qualities of a film that was better off just being plain bad.
Dr. Morgan learns the hard way that being a doctor isn’t about glamorous private practices that pull in 7 figures a year but instead about the people behind the checks, or in this case, those unable to write them. In a melodramatic scene, he learns the true nature of the hospital when he finds upwards of 30 patients wandering aimlessly in a basement. I’m sure that the indictments held against the Veterans Administration are true, but come on, there is no way it’s this bad. The basement?!
The real laughs come near the end when a veteran named Luther (Keith David, always a joy to watch) brings a rifle to the hospital (How did he get this in?) and orchestrates a siege of the hospital with the aid of the entire staff to ensure the patients get their due. I’d be lying if I didn’t love this idea, the thought that a doctor would risk his job to save a patient, but it just wouldn’t happen. The truth is, the red tape unravels both ways and this movie pledges reality when it preaches fantasy. It is here that the main obstacle lies, and it’s a hefty barrier that prevents this film from ever diving any deeper than its shifty surface.
The film sports fine performances, decent cinematography, and a few flashes of intelligence in its running time, but these elements are far outweighed by the rest of the production that, if I had to sum up in one word, is stupid. Lets be honest, though, and admit: Who doesn’t like a stupid movie every now and then?
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.