John Q

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One man against an H.M.O! Ooh, the evil bureaucrats! Ooh, all that paperwork!

“John Q” is the latest re-tread of “Dog Day Afternoon,” but this time it’s a heavy-handed tract from the anti-H.M.O. missionaries. It provides more unintentional laughs than anything else.

Denzel Washington IS John Q. Archibald, a hard-working but down-on-his-luck Chicago man with a wife, Denise (Kimberly Elise), and little boy, Mike (Daniel E. Smith). Then Mike comes up needing a heart transplant to survive, and John’s insurance won’t cover the operation, and the hospital needs a cash down payment.

With no alternatives left, John barges into the emergency room with a gun, demanding that his son be given the transplant. Dr. Turner (James Woods) the cardiologist and several innocent bystanders are taken as hostages while the police, headed by Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall), try to keep John from doing anything crazy (well, crazier).

Director Nick Cassavetes makes everything big, big, big. Every emotion is overblown, and every conversation is tense. When someone hangs up the phone, there is a huge crashing chord on the soundtrack. If everything that happens weren’t so unbelievable, you’d think it was the most important film ever made.

Aside from the melodrama, the film shoots itself in the foot time after time. Eddie Griffin plays a Stereotypical Black Guy stuck in the emegency room with everyone else, and anytime something remotely serious happens, he makes a stupid comment, thus ruining any chance the film had of earning our emotions.

There’s a curiously ham-fisted attempt at media satire, too, with a bloodthirsty TV news reporter (Paul Johansson) who will stop at nothing to get the story, not even allowing the laws of Illinois or physics to get in his way. It’s very obviously out of place in the film.

And need we mention that Robert Duvall’s Stereotypical Gruff Cop is named Frank Grimes — the same name as Homer’s office rival in a classic episode of “The Simpsons”? Or that Larry King and Jay Leno — the two biggest whores in TV (nearly 30 movies credits among them in the past 10 years) — have cameos here, too?

Denzel Washington, Kimberly Elise and Daniel E. Smith are all very good in their roles as the Archibald family. They have a natural chemistry together, and a scene in which Washington must bid his son farewell is surprisingly tender, given the ineptitude of the surrounding scenes. It’s just a reminder that Washington is a great actor, and he can rise above most mediocrity.

This is sappy, unrealistic stuff with hardly a true moment anywhere in it. It preaches and practically begs you to agree with it. If a man fighting an H.M.O. doesn’t sound like a very interesting movie, well, you’re right.

C (; PG-13, moderate profanity, some violence and blood.)

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