Patch Adams (review)

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Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This!

The medical industry could not have been happy with Patch Adams. It makes doctors look bad. It makes hospitals look bad. It makes med schools look bad. On the other hand, it’s so painfully awful that doctors may have been pleased when the number of ER visits shot up as people ran straight from movie theaters to hospitals in diabetic shock over this sugary, gooey, treacly excuse for a film.

I can only hope that the medical education of Dr. Hunter Adams, upon which this distasteful tripe is based, was not so contrived as Patch Adams would have us believe. The movie opens with an upbeat remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After a suicide attempt, Hunter Adams (a shamelessly mugging Robin Williams: What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting) commits himself to a mental hospital, where he discovers how adorable and noble and wacky the mentally unstable can be. The nickname “Patch” is bestowed upon Adams in ridiculous manner; Patch embarrasses his heartless, distracted doctors when he chides them for not paying more attention to him; Patch learns that he has the capacity to help people when he uses his fingers as a pretend gun to shoot the imaginary squirrels his disturbed roommate sees — the score swells triumphantly in case we didn’t get the importance of this moment.

Two years later, Patch is in med school, determined to help as many people as he can. Ha ha! Laughter is the best medicine! So Patch, defying all procedure and authority, starts making goofy rounds in the teaching hospital, evoking giggles from all the little bald cancer kids as director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar) yanks forcibly at the heartstrings. Manipulative? Shadyac seems to ask. Who cares? Williams’s soulful puppy-dog kisser! Moppets with cancer! Cry tears of joy, dammit!


But lo! The dean (Bob Gunton: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) is a meanie, vowing to “train the humanity out of” his students. Patch’s roommate (Philip Seymour Hoffman: Boogie Nights) is a hardhearted hardass. The Girl He Loves (Monica Potter: Con Air, who looks and sounds frighteningly like Julia Roberts) wants to do nothing but study. The mean dying patient who’ll “bite your head off” (Peter Coyote: Sphere) does nothing but growl at Patch’s antics. Oh, the suspense! Will Patch make these poor, lost, deluded souls see the light of day? Take a guess.

Which doctor would you rather have treat your sickly mother: one who spent his time in med school studying, or one who spent his time in med school doing stand-up comedy? But wait! Patch Adams is a verifiable genius! He’s at the top of the class without even cracking a book. And for all the tough problems that Patch Adams attempts to deal with — high medical costs, lack of insurance, overworked and stressed-out doctors — it offers answers that are just as pat, just as calculatedly nonconformist. A funny red clown nose and Groucho glasses will solve all the medical industry’s problems.

Try as it might, Patch Adams is not funny, it’s not sad, and it’s not uplifting. At best, it’s annoying; at worst, it’s sickening. It puts an inane gloss on an important subject. Its characters speechify. It slams us over the head with its “messages.” And its overpowering score, used to underline all the already overly dramatized important bits, is like being stuck in a tiny elevator with a woman who has doused herself in a gallon of cheap perfume.

Oh, I’m in pain.

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