Mark Reviews Movies

Puncture

PUNCTURE

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen

Cast: Chris Evans, Mark Kassen, Marshall Bell, Vinessa Shaw, Brett Cullen, Jesse L. Martin, Michael Biehn, Kate Burton 

MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, language, some nudity and a sexual reference)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 9/23/11 (limited); 10/7/11 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 6, 2011

Only in the movies do lawyers have one of the most potentially treacherous occupations imaginable. Puncture, like so many other legal dramas before it, suggests that on any given case an attorney is routinely tracked by shadowy figures intent on harming him if he gets too close to the truth. Bankruptcy threatens to end their careers, as corporate lawyers and their employers work behind the scenes to keep their opponents from getting any new work. It's always a small firm, too, where the secretary starts every conversation with the boss about past-due bills, as if every court case that ever mattered was also a metaphorical battle of David and the Goliath of a table full of high-salaried lawyers.

As a general rule, every cliché is only as irritating as how it is handled within the material, and Puncture, which also hinges on an ignoble hero taking on a noble cause and becoming a better man as a result, is founded on such clichés. That the movie never manages to elevate itself out of the mire of transparent and formulaic dramatic maneuvers is not—as is so often argued in defense of such stories—due to the fact the constraints of it being based on a true story but because of the limitations of an unimaginative screenplay.

The flawed protagonist is Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), an ambitious personal injury attorney with a troubled past, present, and, if he keeps up his lifestyle, future. He's addicted to a number of substances, from prescription pain medication to heroin and cocaine. He uses, we learn in his first scene in the movie, in part to increase his mental capacity. While sitting in a hotel room with a pair of women he may or may not have paid for their time, Mike snorts cocaine and is soon to the races preparing for an important cross-examination the next morning, inviting his next-door neighbors over to help him role play.

In court, he does not give the impression of a man whose schedule is dictated by when he must have his next hit, and, indeed, his best friend and law partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen, who also co-directed the movie with his brother Adam) does not learn about Mike's chemical dependence until one night, late into the events of the movie, he is rushed to the hospital due to complications from withdrawal.

That assertion is suspicious. Surely there are functioning addicts who are able to conceal their addiction in everyday life, but Mike does not attempt to hide his warning signs. He makes regular runs to the bathroom, is late for even the most important meetings, holds an irregular schedule when left to his own devices, and keeps company in his off hours that is not typical of a man without serious issues with which need to be dealt. Paul sees most of this, even attending a party, if briefly, at Mike's home. The highlight of the night is when Mike's wife (Tess Parker) demands an apology from her husband while aiming a gun at him before demanding a divorce.

The turning point comes when Mike and Paul take on the case of an ER nurse named Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted HIV when a needle slipped from a patient's arm and into her own. She and many of her fellow nurses insist that such accidents, which lead to 800,000 similar injuries per year, could easily be prevented if their hospitals were to use safety needles that automatically retract after use. The mechanics of the needles and the fact that they are not reusable make them a costly venture, though Vicky and her friend Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), who holds the patent on and manufactures such syringes, argue that the money spent on the needles would offset the costs that result from the injuries.

The movie's intentions, emphasized by Chris Lopata's screenplay's mentions of such data and other regarding the overuse of reusable syringes in third-world countries where numbers of AIDS cases explode due to their usage, are as pure to the cause of medical safety as Mike's turn out to be. As a mysterious man (Michael Biehn) trails Mike and the head attorney (Brett Cullen) for the group purchasing company Mike and Paul are fighting against throws his weight around, Mike begins battling with his addiction. Evans is fine enough playing the generic highs and lows of a character who is defined entirely by his flaws, but Mike's many downs and few ups are merely background to the depositions, interviews, and negotiations, which, in turn, are background to vague underdog sentiments.

The story of Puncture, as it turns out, is in fact only background to a later case that determined the fate of the safety needle, making the movie's actual heroes ancillary characters Mike and Paul come across over the course of their work; they are simply the dedicated starting point. This makes them representatives of the movie as a whole. Perhaps, one day, someone else will pick up its effort and do the story justice.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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