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Puncture: Captain America, Attorney-At-Law?

by Ethan Alter September 23, 2011 4:24 pm
<i>Puncture</i>: Captain America, Attorney-At-Law?

Filmed before his starring role in Captain America: The First Avenger, but getting a belated theatrical release after that summer blockbuster raised his profile, the legal drama Puncture gives Chris Evans a chance to prove he can play more than just 'roided-up action heroes or the dreamy guy in rom-coms like The Nanny Diaries and next week's What's Your Number. For his part, Evans seizes the opportunity and runs with it, making the most of the role of flamboyant lawyer, Mike Weiss, whose brilliance in court is matched only by his bad behavior outside of it. Never one to turn down a line of cocaine or casual sex with random strangers (a hobby that costs him his marriage), Mike is a walking disaster area, but the chaos that is his personal life only serves to fuel his sharp legal mind. That's really the only reason his friend and business partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen, who also co-directed the film with his brother, Adam Kassen) hasn't dropped him from their struggling firm -- he may be a deeply flawed human being, but Mike is simply too good a lawyer to kick to curb.

The firm's current case certainly demands all of Weiss' skills. Against Danziger's better judgment, Mike decides to pick up the crusade launched by a Houston ER nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who was pricked by a contaminated needle while working at her hospital and developed HIV/AIDS. She doesn't intend to sue the hospital for personal damages, but she does want them to start using a safer syringe that a local inventor, Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), has developed and which would prevent the same accident from happening to other trauma nurses. But so far, all of the hospitals she and Dancort have approached about the so-called "Safety Point" syringe have turned them down flat, due to a complex and highly unfair system that locks them into purchasing supplies from only established and entrenched health care and pharmaceutical companies. Weiss adopts their quixotic mission to keep hospital supply closets well-stocked with Safety Point needles and mounts an antitrust suit against the entire Houston medical system, a case that pushes his firm's already-limited resources to the breaking point and makes him an enemy of the industry's bottom-line minded titans and their powerful legal teams.

Puncture is based on an actual case that the real Weiss and Danziger (who is credited as a co-writer on the movie's story) started working on in the '90s. In adapting the story to the screen, the Kassen siblings try to turn what sounds like an enormous, but fairly straightforward legal undertaking into a kind of procedural thriller, complete with shadowy enforcers keeping watch on our intrepid legal eagles and late-night encounters with Deep Throat-like whistleblowers. Unfortunately, this approach often obscures the facts of the case instead of enhancing our understanding of what exactly the lawyers and their clients are fighting for. Meanwhile, Weiss is given the Erin Brokovich treatment, as his personal problems are repeatedly nudged into the spotlight, thus giving Evans lots of big, showy moments to play. The actor handles them well for the most part, but that material never meshes particularly well with the case he's working on. Where Brokovich smartly tied the subject of the title character's investigation -- contaminated water that poisoned children -- to her own trials and tribulations as a single mom, Puncture fails to make a compelling connection between Weiss' life and work. The filmmakers want to honor this man's achievements, but viewers will likely leave the theater uncertain as to what exactly it was that he accomplished.

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