John Q.

Bomb Rating: 

This is sort of like the "I Am Sam" of HMO films. I mean, how much more insulting can filmmakers get than to set up the audience with the cute kid who can't get a heart transplant so his father has to take the emergency room hostage and force the hospital to put his son on the recipient list? Is it possible to write a more contrived story than that?

I think I'll start with the stupidest thing in the movie first -- and this is really stupid. Toward the end, because his son is dying, John Q (Denzel Washington) decides the solution is to shoot himself in the head and have the hospital's chief of cardiac surgery, Dr. Turner (James Woods), give his heart to his son. For about five minutes, everyone gives John hugs, looks solemn, and then John lies down on a gurney and puts the gun to his head while Dr. Turner and two ER docs look on. All I have to say is thank God they didn't need to harvest somebody's brain, because they never would have located one. They're in an emergency room packed with lethal drugs that could make the whole "suicide" operation a lot less messy, but I guess that would rob us of a valuable lesson, namely: brain splatter = drama!

That's really just the tip of the big, moronic iceberg that's floating through downtown Chicago like Oprah looking for a donut shop. John is fortunate enough to take over the hospital emergency room on a Saturday, when apparently nobody is working. There appear to be only a handful of doctors at work -- in Chicago. The custodial staff on "ER" is bigger than this. Shortly after this takeover, 35-year Chicago police vet Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) shows up, followed by his press-loving Chief, Monroe (Ray Liotta), who demands a quick resolution because "it's an election year." Anne Heche plays the ball-busting head of the administration who tells John and wife, Denise (Kimberly Elise), to take their son home and watch him die as if they were burying a gerbil. She opens up the hospital to a really unpleasant lawsuit, thus destroying her credibility as an administrator. Any good bureaucrat knows you put the kid on the list and then let him die, allowing the parents to think that a heart just never became available. And why are Anne Heche's nipples hard the first time she shows up on screen? I'm really sick of Anne Heche and her perky nipples -- you're never quite sure what's making them that way.

Director Nick Cassavettes might consider this script for his next film: "I Crapped on My Father's Grave." Here's what boiled my blood about this film politically: First off, blaming the entire state of health care on the HMOs is beyond simplistic. Somebody has to pay for all this crap and the taxpayers -- over and over again -- demonstrate that they don't want to. While the HMOs had their role, nobody thinks to blame the factory where John works for cutting his time, which was likely not only an effort to save money on salary, but benefits as well. In most industries, even in cases where companies are making billions of dollars in profits, they've been finding ways to fuck their employees out of living wages and reasonable benefits for years.

If Nick Cassavettes' heart were in the right place, it would be in the body of a director who could put it to productive use.

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