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Watch the opening sequence of Puncture carefully. There you will see some poor man writhing violently on an ER gurney at a hospital in Houston. For the more inquisitive of our readers, add a whole mess of cussin' and double the violence of the writhing -- add sitting up and slamming back in to the gurney, as if to complete the neck breakage that the truck that hit us started -- and the scene would look like a New York hospital that Cranky became intimately acquainted with, 23 years ago almost to the day that we screened the film called Puncture, of which we say . . .
IN SHORT: Another for our Best of the Year list. [Rated R for drug use, language, some nudity and a sexual reference. 99 minutes]
In our case, back in 1988, the nurses tied us down to the gurney before administering any sedative. In the case of Puncture, it is 1995 when nurse Vicky Rogers (Vinessa Shaw) tries to give the shot while the patient is still writhing. No restraints. Not a good idea. Post injection, the syringe needle sticks nurse Vicky. Do not dismiss the needle-stick as a "job hazard." In an ER, for the most part,no one knows where the patient has been or done. In nurse Rogers' case, said patient has, and infects her with, with a fully developed HIV virus.
Three years later, Vicky is dying in the hospital that she once worked in. The hospital that had, until the time of this film (1998) paid her medical benefits no longer does so. A close friend, mechanical engineer Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), so incensed that a simple needle stick could, essentially, kill his pal, set pen to draft board and developed a new kind of syringe that would prevent the kind of "needle-stick" injury that is about to take her life. When Dancort tries to show his invention to the hospital, they won't even look at it, let alone entertain the notion of buying any of the small production run he has manufactured.
When lawyers Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) and Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) come into this story, it isn't a story about nurse Vicky's travails. It is a story of why a hospital won't take a simple step to protect its workers -- has to do with money, of course -- and how a pair of low rent lawyers bring a major medical payola story to light.
On the other side, of course, is a filthy rich and powerfully respectable team of attorneys led by Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen) who represent the company that manufactures syringes and/or the overriding health care group (called a G.P.O.) which, by law, gets a 3% kickback from the aforementioned manufacturers on every plastic syringe it purchases. Said G.P.O.'s are not comprised of doctors or nurses, by the way. It is run by accountants and administrators and what they say goes, as far as the equipment the doctors and nurses in is hospitals are concerned. If we haven't explain the setup succinctly, don't worry. You'll have better explanation, with diagrams and pointing arrows and all that good stuff, to look at during the film's run. It isn't as difficult as it sounds and not nearly as painful as being stuck by a syringe.
We don't think all that much about AIDS in this country since drugs have been developed to control the virus. This story is not about AIDS. It is as much about anything else a medical worker can catch (Hepatitis B or C or any number of other communicable diseases). Vicky doesn't want understand why only one hospital in the country will even consider using the safety syringe. With close to a million needle sticks each year in the USA, the problem is big. When you consider that syringes in depressed areas such as the continent of Africa are used again and again, and that the reuse of contaminated syringes is one of the sources for things such as hepatitis B and C and the HIV virus -- AIDS for those who haven't been paying attention the last 20 years -- a safe syringe would be a really, really good idea. If the hospitals corporate overseers would let the doctors and nurses know that such a thing existed. Which is the point of Puncture.
Story-wise, though, nurse Vicky could have made a better choice in lawyers. Danziger is pretty much the upright would be yuppie that he appears to be. He's got a wife with a bun in the oven and a law practice dependent on hand-me-down cases from a high school friend (Jesse L Martin) at a much bigger law firm.
His business partner, that Weiss guy, is a hard-partyin', coke snorting, prostitute utilizing wild man. He seems to work out of a motel room. He (apparently) has a wife, who leaves him sometime during the course of the film -- the details are the only thing lacking in the screenplay but the rest of the story is strong enough that we surmise that Weiss and wife were separated as the legal end of the story kicks into being.
If nothing else, Evans' performance in Puncture added to everything else we've seen in the past few years, just kicks our appreciation for the acting talent of Chris Evans up a couple of notches. Most of you may know the name for his ability to take comic book characters and make them "real" (whether as the Human Torch or as Captain America). In a "real" role (apologies to Mr. Evans) he makes a character with so many unsympathetic traits pretty sympathetic.
The performances by Kassen and Cullen keep the rest of the film in balance and contribute to it being a much better sit than we had expected.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Puncture, he would have paid . . .
Puncture is not a story about disease. It is not a story about death. It is, when you get down to basics, a story about Life. See it.
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