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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Medicine Man (1992)



Reviews and Comments

Medicine Man, though it takes place in a rain forest and has a plot about a cure for cancer and subtext about saving the environment, is a relationship movie between the two stars, Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco. The other plot elements are all tangents to the development of this central relationship, and, consequently, the success of the film depends squarely on how well drawn the characters are.

The film scores one out of two. Sean Connery could scarcely be better; although the role is not complex, and Connery does nothing he hasn't done before, he has a commanding presence and makes the film entertaining simply by virtue of his inherent charm and humor.

Lorraine Bracco, on the other hand, is awful. It's not entirely her fault. Her acting rarely hits the right notes, but this is partly because she has such bad lines to recite. They don't ring true, because she doesn't ring true. Her whole character is constructed out of the demands of the plot. It's as if the writers came up with Connery's character, the story, and the setting, and fit them all together like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, then forcibly shaped Bracco's character into the form needed to complete the picture, whatever the lump of paradoxes would be required. An early scene illustrates the point all too nicely: upon her arrival at Connery's field research lab, he requires some cursory medical checks before letting her bathe in the local water, as the inadvertent importing of even a minor disease could have disastrous consequences for the local population. But she puts up an absurdly irrational fuss over it, which just does not fit with the methodical, highly educated and respected scientist she's supposed to be. She acts this way because the plot requires Connery to be particularly and personally sensitive on the issue, so her resistance illustrates this by contrast. So we get a pedantic argument that should never have taken place.

Despite that half the leading cast is actively unsatisfactory, Medicine Man has its charms. But why does the film have to take itself so darned seriously and maneuver us through scenes built up to have grave import? The story isn't real enough to warrant all the brooding -- it's the kind of thing that should have been more, well, fun. Then again, the lighter scenes, such as one in which Bracco's character gets high on caffeine and winds up plummeting into a pond, are too artificial to be amusing.

I wanted to like this movie more than I did. Maybe that's apparent by how I keep trying to steer this review toward a positive note only to be sidetracked by another peeve. Here's another: I found the climactic scenes, which have bulldozers paving a road through an ecologically important area right on cue, to be annoying and improbable. Couldn't the writers trust their material enough to forego incongruous plot points like this? Or were the bulldozers not employed as a gratuitous source of suspense so much as a means to pound in an environmental message?

The message of this movie is indeed an important one, so important that I shall repeat it here: "PAVING OVER THE ENVIRONMENT IS A BAD THING!" Now you know.