Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

MEDICINE MAN (1992) ** 1/4

Cast: Sean Connery, Lorraine Bracco, et al. Directed by John McTiernan. Written by Tom Schulman and Sally Robinson. Photography, Donald McAlpine. A Hollywood Pictures release. 104 min. Rated PG-13.

Another entry in the ecological-rain forest sweepstakes, MEDICINE MAN is also one of those movies that get trounced by the critics but supported by the public. Both extremes are, well... extreme. The film is obvious and so-so.  It is about as ambitious as a TV movie, except for its elaborate production values and high budget. On the other hand, it is neither pretentious nor irritating : at worst you can be bored, but without feeling like pelting the screen with ripe tropical fruit ; at best you may get some passing pleasure from watching it, especially at matinee prices.

For six years, biochemist Dr. Robert Campbell (Connery), has been living in an Indian village of Venezuela's Amazonian rain forest. He has found a cure for cancer -- but there are complications: a lost formula to be reconstituted, healing flowers way up at treetop level, an Indian medicine man upset at the competition, encroaching bulldozers that bring down the trees, healing plants, and native culture.

In the movie's Stanley-Livingstone start, the pharmaceutical company sponsoring  Dr. Campbell research dispatches Dr. Rae Crane (Bracco) to check up on Campbell. Here come the formulas too!  Not only new, scientific ones, but the old movie-movie Hollywood cliches,all phony : the odd encounter, the initial antagonisms, the battle of the sexes, the taming of the shrill, Bracco's gradual appreciation  of Connery and the  Amazonian natives, the collaboration between the two doctors, the rise of  affection and (need it be said?) the birth of love.

The script is by Tom Schulman (the writer of DEAD POETS SOCIETY) with many rewrites by Sally Robinson and, 'tis said, an uncredited Tom Stoppard.  It is a dumb, dull  scenario that is beyond the curative powers of script doctors. And as it has no real shape or energy, it tries to make up for this with bit, lots of bits: bits of likable natives; bits of Tarzan-Jane swinging ; bits of levity (a caffeine-loaded plant gives Bracco a high); bits of hysterics; bits of social consciousness (Stop the Bulldozers!). Disjointed bits cannot a good mainstream movie make, but at least, they vary, except for the many, tedious wisecracks during verbal fencing. (But how come they missed a cheap gag about Connery's computer? It functions in a humid, insect-ridden environment, yet nobody talks about computer bugs.)

It all adds up to a shaggy doctor story. That Connery is a great scientist is guaranteed by movie road-signs: he is eccentric, white-bearded,  pony tailed, curmudgeonly. Of course, this gruff exterior barely conceals a huge, loving heart. An additional proof of his brilliance may be the fact that his wife had left him --whether before the jungle stint or during it, I forget.  ( Memo to students of sexism: In fiction, brainy, dedicated and workaholic men often have wives who,  feeling neglected or bored, quit. But we almost never get husbands leaving their genius spouses).

Dr. Campbell is so perfectly at home in the rain forest that had the movie been made in the 1930s, it would have included the line :"He's gone native." But this is a modern film. It avoids condescension toward the Amazon Indians and dodges the opposite temptation of romanticizing or mysticizing them.

That's OK. But the movie is also slow paced , has some pretty awful lines of dialogue, and cannot escape the Hollywood corniness of the white-couple-in-brown-land syndrome. Worse yet, there is no electricity between Connery and Bracco. Connery, suffering from a recession in his latest films (Family Business, The Russia House, Highlander 2) is still good to watch but he seems more dutiful than convinced.

Bracco, who did so very well as the Mob wife in GoodFellas, is no great shakes but still does not deserve the flailing she's getting from reviewers. They reproach her character for her New York accent (Dr. Campbell nicknames her "Bronx"), for abrasiveness, shrillness and griping. Horrors ! they seem to say, that's  not what a "real" female scientist is or ought to be! (Second Memo to students of sexism: have the critics have ever seen a  woman scientist in the flesh or are they operating from movie creations?)

To its mild credit, Medicine Man keeps the developing love affair verbal and un-titillating.  Non-titillating too is the natural, careful dosage of topless natives.  (The critics make cracks but note that the rating is PG-13)

For the Venezuelan jungle Mexican locations were used. Some Indians were imported from Brazil. Footage from other South American locations was inserted. Technically this is good, thorough and painstaking work. The settings and their photography are impressive. Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds inauthentic, like a mix of Mexican and Peruvian music, but it is pleasant.

Finally, a solid plus in this undistinguished but quite watchable movie is that even though the protagonists are on the boring side, there is something human and ordinary about them. They look their age and seem neither glamorized nor heavily cosmeticized.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel