John Q review

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Infinitely more interesting than watching this ludicrous melodrama unfold is trying to figure out how director Nick Cassavetes nabbed such a great cast. The shouty triumvirate of Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall and James Woods (13 Oscar nominations and three wins between them) should definitely be having words with their agents. Even Anne Heche and Ray Liotta (not exactly at the zenith of their respective careers) deserve better than this.

Broke-but-decent machinery operator John Quincy Archibald (Washington) is driven to desperate measures when the twin evils of heartless bureaucracy and corporate greed conspire to deny his critically ill son a heart transplant. With his boy given only weeks to live, Archibald takes an A&E department hostage and delivers an ultimatum: either his son gets the op or he starts shooting.

Even though the `scandal' of sub-standard employee medicare is a much hotter topic in the States than it is here, this could still have been a taut, issue-driven thriller with a strong emotional core. No such luck. Mired in plot contrivance and dialogue so overwrought it makes the average episode of Brookside seem like an exercise in slow-burning restraint, even the heavy hitters on display look like they're battling to keep a straight face. Washington in particular - - so maniacally mesmerising in Training Day - - is required to deliver lines that a grown man really shouldn't have to.

The supporting cast of clichés (cold-hearted hospital beancounter, kill-crazy SWAT team leader, preening, politicking police captain) trudge such pre-ordained paths that they may as well be animatronic. Matters aren't improved by a wailing score which desperately over-eggs weepy scenes until they become unintentionally comic. At the greenlight meeting, they probably sold this as Dog Day Afternoon meets ER. The Negotiator meets Holby City is closer to the mark.

Sledgehammer storytelling, silly dialogue and a continual atmosphere of hysteria reduce John Q to a Hippocratic hamfest likely to induce illness. One to, ahem, bypass.

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