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Critical Care
Starring James Spader, Helen Mirren, Kyra Sedgwick;
Jeffrey Wright, Wallace Shawn and Anne Bancroft
Screenplay by Steven Schwartz
based on the book by Richard Dooling
Directed by Sydney Lumet

IN SHORT: In one word: "D.O.A."

As always, Cranky makes no comparison to the source material.

You can get all the critical care you need if you have the insurance to pay for it. If you don't have it, you may as well never have been born. In fact, if you do have insurance, you may get more care than you ever wanted in the first place. Which may have been the whole idea behind the failed satire that is Critical Care, a preachy, deadly bore of a movie that almost unilaterally fails to tickle the funny bone, as it drops monologue after monologue about uncaring doctors and lawyers and the system into your lap.

Welcome to Memorial Hospital's Ninth Floor Intensive Care unit. In bed one is Raphael (Jeffrey Wright), whose doctors have removed both his kidneys. Raphael is being treated for acute renal failure. [rimshot]. In the next bed is a really old man who has been in coma for the last three months, and whose insurance is shelling out incredible amounts of moolah to keep his shriveled old body alive. His daughters are about to fight about giving permission to install a feeding tube to keep the man alive.

For the next ninety minutes, every doctor, nurse and lawyer that parades across the screen in Critical Care will speak to you about the pros and cons of keeping either of the men, or indeed any man (or woman or child) alive.

It doesn't matter which side of the right to die argument you sit on, Critical Care is downright painful to sit through. Had director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Steven Schwartz (no relation) stuck to the basic story -- half-sisters fighting over control of their father's $10 million estate -- you may have had a rollicking good time watching the doctors fighting to keep the dude alive and the insurance cash coming. Or the sisters having it out in a good old cat fight.

What we get is a very long acquaintance with the very exhausted, tortured and blackmailed doctor Werner Ernst (James Spader), who is stuck in the middle. The gorgeous sister is Kyra Sedgwick, who dreams of being a model. The fat, older sister (Margo Martindale) thumps the Bible and is constantly at daddy's bedside. Over at Raphael's bed, representatives of the Devil (Wallace Shawn) and Heaven (Anne Bancroft in a nun's habit) tell tales of the Afterlife, and all of this is secondary to good Nurse Stella (Helen Mirren) who maintains a pained expression throughout.

Worse are the hospital lawyers, who go ballistic 'cuz Spader talks out of turn to get into Sedgwick's pants -- instead of going ballistic 'cuz their doctors chopped out both kidneys of a patient they keep alive with treatment for "advanced renal failure."

I'm repeating myself 'cuz I'm pissed off. Critical Care features a name brand cast, most of whom just stand around while a screenmate yada yadas. Long speeches and intense listening do not equal satire. Satire is a fine line, folks. When it works, the laughs come effortlessly. When it doesn't, it's like a punch in the nose. Critical Care left Cranky with breathing trouble.

The only savior onscreen is under a ton of makeup, and that is Albert Brooks in the role of elder mentor to poor Dr. Ernst. Running so far into the realm of caricature, Brooks plays for the laughs and gets 'em. He's about the only one who does.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Critical Care, he would have paid . . .


For Albert Brooks' performance and only for that. If I wanted to be preached to, I would have gone to church.

Click to buy films by Sydney Lumet
Click to buy films starring Helen Mirren
Click to buy films starring James Spader
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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.