Thursday, September 22, 2016

Retro Review: CRITICAL CONDITION (1987)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we review the 1987 comedy CRITICAL CONDITION.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Is it weird that I've never watched a Richard Pryor movie? That seems kinda weird to me. As a check off the movie lover bucket list, Critical Condition fills the bill in an "any port in a storm" kind of way. As a first Richard Pryor movie, though, it's a disappointment.

Critical Condition follows a common plot for 1980s comedies: self-centered guy gets into a situation where people depend on him, and becomes a changed man through the rewarding experience of caring for others. In this case, Richard Pryor stars as Eddie Lanahan, a would-be entrepreneur. While trying to get a loan to open a movie theater from a loan shark, Eddie is arrested. In an attempt to avoid jail time, Eddie feigns insanity, which doesn't work. All seems lost until the power fails at the isolated hospital where he's being detained for evaluation. As he tries to escape during the blackout, Eddie is caught by the staff and mistaken for a Doctor Slattery. Eddie decides to play along with this ruse until he can escape for good. And it's during this time spent playing healer that Eddie learns the joys of friendship and helping others, and becomes a changed man.

Heartwarming though the story of Critical Condition may be, what it most definitely is not is funny. Perhaps that's the fault of director Michael Apted, whose IMDB profile features not one other comic project, despite 76 directing credits in a career spanning 50 years. Maybe its due to the fact that five different people worked on the script, with three people handling the story and two for the screenplay. Those two screenwriters, incidentally, did not see a lot of work following this project: Denis Hamill has three subsequent credits according to IMDB, and John Hamill never worked again. One wonders why.

I doubt it's the fault of Pryor himself, given the wealth of extenuating evidence that he can be funny when pressed, but for whatever reason, almost every joke in this movie falls flat, typically because you can see them coming from a long way off. The cast has no energy, and even Pryor's manic behavior has an over-rehearsed feel. Everyone just seems bored with the story, and now they're just in it for the mortgage payment.

There's a dramatic element to the story, as well, involving a convict named Stucky who also takes advantage of the power outage to get away from his handlers and, following a shave and change of clothes, manages to disappear into the crowd of patients in the hospital for a time. But given that this story doesn't go anywhere until the very end, when the movie needs some dramatic tension for the climax, even this is disappointing. By the time the climax came around I was so bored I really didn't care how things worked out.

With its predictable story, dead jokes and lifeless cast, Critical Condition is not a shining example of 1980s comedy. If you saw this movie back in the day and thought it was hilarious then, you'll likely still think it's funny now. If you've never seen it, though, leave it unseen. Unless you're having trouble sleeping. It worked wonders for me there.

Critical Condition is rated R for language throughout.

Robert's Score: 1/10

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