Review: “Puncture”

Will Leitch

1. "Puncture" is based on the true story of Michael D. Weiss, which is convenient, since, if "Puncture" tells the story correctly, Weiss was considerate enough to live his life in a way that he surrounded himself with every possible cliche and hackneyed, obvious development imaginable. That was nice of him: They must not have had to change a thing.

2. I kid, of course: "Puncture" is inspired by a true story, and Weiss was a real person, but this film has no interest in him as anything other than a speechifying placeholder who occasionally does drugs, to give himself, you know, depth. (Also, the film has a lot of interest in him as an acting exercise for Chris Evans. But we'll get back to that.) Weiss is a cocaine-addled, ambulance-chasing lawyer who stumbles across a case in which a nurse contracted AIDS from an infected needle; she informs him that there are safer needles made, but hospitals won't use them because pharmaceutical companies believe them too expensive to make. Thus he, to the chagrin of his straight-arrow partner, decides to Fight For Justice, taking on big-ticket lawyers and the Whole Industry to make sure our hospitals are safe. Meanwhile, he struggles with an addiction to apparently every substances on earth. Evans so casually ingests so many drugs in this film that I half expected him to be huffing paint or licking frogs.

3. I don't mean to make light of that: Weiss, in real life, was quite troubled and did, in fact, help enact new regulations in hospitals. But surely his real life was thornier, or at least less High School Student Essay On Corporate Ethics than this. I do not doubt that the pharmaceutical industry conspired with hospitals to make sure their stock prices and profits were high. What I do doubt is that that industry was represented by a lawyer so cartoonishly evil that, when he meets with our plucky lawyers to negotiate, he greets them while riding a horse around a palatial estate surrounded by his own private golf course. I do doubt that a U.S. Senator -- shortly after politely informing Weiss that he needs to wipe the cocaine off his mustache -- would immediately, and publicly, pull back pro-medical safety legislation within five minutes of a phone call from the evil lawyer man. And I highly doubt that lawyer would explain himself solely through bad metaphors like "guys like me are like cafeteria trays: Take one off, and there's another one right beneath it." Oy. At least he didn't say Pez dispensers?

4. And then there is Evans. The actor is hot right now after the success of "Captain America," and this is his clear "I'm A Serious Actor" movie. Would it be a little rude to suggest that maybe, ahem, he isn't? OK, it would be rude, but still, someone probably should have told Evans that not every drug addict signifies his cocaine addiction by sniffling like crazy the minute he walks into every room? (Chris, as an actor, you should know this.) The movie is a succession of Take Evans Seriously scenes. Look, he's puking in the tub! Look, he's shooting up! Look, he's crying! Look, he's making another speech! It also doesn't help that Evans is so jacked-up huge from his action movie roles; apparently the movie has found a link between cocaine addiction and HGH. (Also, having him shoot heroin with one of the needles he's trying to require hospitals to use is a bit on the nose.) Evans can be charming, but he doesn't dig very deep, and the cumulative effect is one of a man dutifully putting together his demo reel.

5. Then again: Not many actors could handle lines like "At least I have the courage TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT!" There isn't a scene in "Puncture" that feels like it's anything at all like what transpired in real life ... even if it, in fact, did. Sibling directors Mark and Adam Kassan -- Mark plays Weiss' partner, and I have to admit, I barely remember him even being in the movie, and he's the second lead -- are clearly impassioned activists, and the fight they're trying to fight (the takeover of our health care system by billionaire pharmaceutical companies) is as relevant today as it was when the events of the film transpired. (The case came to court in the late '90s.) But as filmmakers, well, they're clearly impassioned activists. Their convictions get in the way of their dramatic instincts, so what promises to be the story of a conflicted addict who still did some good in the world turns into the black hats and white hats, with damsels in distress tied to the train tracks while wearing scrubs. "Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places." That's a good, cheesy cover line for the poster. Unfortunately, it's an actual line of dialogue from the film.

Grade: D+