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Crazy as Hell

Starring Michael Beach, Ronny Cox, John C. McGinley, Sinbad and Eriq La Salle
Screenplay by Jeremy Leven, Erik Jendresen
Based on a novel by Jeremy Leven
Directed by Eriq La Salle

IN SHORT: Modesty gets in the way of a potential ripper of a movie. [Rated R for some strong sexual content, violent images and language. 113 minutes]

When rising supershrink Dr. Ty Adams (Michael Beach) temporarily sets his shingle at the Sedah State Hospital, the regime in power led by Dr. Sam Delazo (Ronny Cox), is not exactly happy about his radical "non-medicinal approach" for the treatment of "mental imbalances" in its patients. For everyone else that doesn't speak PC, Sedah is a mental institution. A nut house. A loony bin. Adams picks ten patients to treat with words of kindness and has got thirty days to prove that his methods work. For every second of those thirty days, documentary film maker Wayne Parker (John C. McGinley) shadows his every move for a documentary film showing the effects of psychiatry on the mentally ill. And vice versa.

That vice versa bit is important as we follow actor Eriq La Salle's first feature, essentially a descent into the hell of mental hospitals which, as any budding screenwriter can tell you, offers up at least four possible story endings -- the doctor beats or loses to the System. A patient is cured or goes totally psycho -- and, of course, there is always the possibility that it is the Doctor who is actually the one who needs treatment. There's an orderly named Jefferson (Sinbad) who repeatedly asks for a moment of the good Doctor's time. No doubt there's something important to be said. It's a wonderful tease but it is underutilized as we meet the prime candidate for Adams' treatment, a schizophrenic woman named Cheryl Colby (Tracy Pettit), resident of the institution since age 12.

Well, she would be the prime candidate except for the fact that a man who is convinced that he is Satan (Eriq La Salle) checks himself in for treatment. A vaguely androgynous temptor/temptress whose choice in clothing runs to satin and fine evening gowns, this psycho attempts to turn our good doctor's world on its head. Dr. Adams has a fingerprint check run on the patient. To his surprise, each finger comes back exactly matching its identical digit on the hands of such famed butchers as John Dillinger, Jeffrey Dahmer, a KKK Grand Wizard and Milli Vanilli, to name a few. Each therapy session becomes a battle of wits, eventually putting the treatment of Cheryl dead in the middle of a verbal between Good (Adams) and Evil (Satan). Not to mention the battle between Dr. Adams and Dr. Delazo's "system," or his own hidden secret background story or the changing tactics of documentarian Parker, who moves his crew from passive recorders to active participants in the drama they are putting on film and tape.

Our problem with Crazy As Hell is that, as an adaptation of a 700 page doorstop of a book, its script cannot balance its subplots against the main battle. La Salle, when he is present on screen, is absolutely electric in the role but the film has huge gaps where his onscreen participation is needed. Add to that a noncommittal ending, typical of art house films and always infuriating, and you've got an reason to stay away, unless you prefer that kind of art house thing. In that case, go for La Salle's performance, and make do as best you can with a stuttering script.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Crazy As Hell, he would have paid . . .



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