John Q

Now that writing in various foreign nationalities as the 'bad guys' in films is increasing politically incorrect, screenwriters are turning to alternative sources like the government, large corporations, or, as in John Q, the HMO. Either way, it should only be unacceptable when it amounts to bad stereotyping. Here, it's extremely easy to make a punching bag out of HMOs, given all the bad press they receive in the news and the public's attitude towards them. Whether or not they are indeed the devil incarnate is another matter. Unfortunately, the demonisation they receive here is so preachy and simplistic that it manages cast a sour note on the rest of the movie, overshadowing some good performances. The good guys are too good, and the bad guys are too bad. The fact that the entire premise of this movie is preposterous, and all the characters come from archetypical 'movie' stock.

John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington, Training Day, Remember the Titans) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise, Bait, Beloved) are typical, lower middle class Americans getting lost slowly in the system. Denise works in a grocery store, and John had his hours cut back to part time at the local factory. This exacerbates matters when their son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) collapses and is hospitalized. John learns that his employer switched providers, from an HMO to a PPO, and that coverage does not extend to the heart transplant operation that Mike needs. The Archibalds do not have enough money to become cash patients of the hospital, so they cannot put Mike on the donor list. Representing the hospital are administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche, Auggie Rose, The Third Miracle) and cardiologist Dr. Turner (James Woods, Riding in Cars with Boys, Scary Movie 2). Both profess sympathy, but without money, offer no tangible help.

When they inform John that they are discharging Mike, John takes matters into his own hands. He takes hostages in the hospital ER, promising to release them when his son gets the promise of a new heart. This brings forth veteran negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall, The 6th Day, Gone in 60 Seconds) and Monroe (Ray Liotta, Heartbreakers, Blow). Grimes wants to negotiate, while Monroe wants a sniper to kill John. Inside the ER, John, who is basically a good guy, goes about helping the patients in there and winning his trust. Along the way, they have time to discuss the merits and disadvantages of managed care. The arguments in screenwriter James Kearns' script are too one-sided and the preaching becomes too heavy-handed for anything else to matter. Washington and Elise do give strong emotional performances, and this is probably the only reason to see this John Q. They both display a believable love for their son, and becoming emotionally wrecked when his situation worsens. This is a better performance for Washington that Training Day, for which he garnered an Academy Award nomination.

The same cannot be said of the other characters. Woods, Liotta, Heche, and Duvall all can act up a storm, but not when given such hollow characters. Duvall and especially Liotta are the same cops plucked from any number of other films. Liotta's Monroe displays bizarre behavior and makes decisions unfit for someone of his rank, mostly because director Nick Cassavetes (Going After Cacciato, She's So Lovely) needs a token bad guy. Woods and Heche have no depth to their characters, they are simply playing 'the Man' (and woman). As for John's hostages, they consist of the necessary random mix of people, none of which are interesting. As John Q nears its midpoint, it's clear how it will end. Still, Cassavetes and Kearns insist on trying to add suspense by having the characters do increasingly stranger things. At one point, somebody stabs John in the shoulder with a scalpel. After this, he seems fine, with no medication. Also, John's abilities to take over the ER are too easy. The David and Goliath story is old, but can be made well (Erin Brockovich for one). John Q is just not the case.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and intense thematic elements.

Back to Movies