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Tucson Weekly Bad Medicine

David Duchovny's Latest Flick Will Make You Ill

By Stacey Richter

OCTOBER 27, 1997:  DAVID DUCHOVNY HAS the strange, rare talent of remaining utterly expressionless at all times. Anyone under the impression that acting is all about emoting (I'm talking to you, Al Pacino) should take a lesson from Mr. Duchovny, the bowl-cut baby doll of the silver screen. His version of acting involves simply staring from hooded eyes until, slowly, he blinks. Ah! It could mean anything! It could mean nothing!

This acting style is perfectly suited to his role as a defrocked, junkie physician "playing God" in Playing God, a laughably bad thriller from former technician-turned-director Andy Wilson. Wilson has no previous directing credits, and his production experience includes "electrician" (the person responsible for setting lights) on Days of Heaven, a film famous for being shot entirely in natural light. Well, you can see he's had enough of that natural monkey business. Here, all the edges are hard-lit, and Wilson's spectrum keeps shifting towards blue. Cheesy camera tricks (fly's eye view; seasick motion) add to the feeling there's something very wrong with this movie, some unholy marriage of '70s kung fu and Miami Vice.

To be kind, perhaps the camera tricks are meant to add movement to the quiescent Duchovny, who slouches through this movie giving off the distinct feeling he'd rather be doing anything else. Duchovny plays affluent fuck-up Dr. Eugene Sands, an aimless layabout living in L.A. It seems Dr. Sands used to be a great surgeon, but now he's all zoned out on pills and some sort of mighty fine dope that comes in little glass vials. He drinks it in milk! At least this helps explain Duchovny's total lack of affect.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who's watched ER, Marcus Welby, or The Mod Squad. (The wardrobe will be familiar to fans of The Mod Squad too; Duchovny turns up in a white pants suit for which there's simply no explanation). Doctor gets hopped up on pills and dope; doctor operates on patient; patient starts rhythmically spurting blood; all white costumes become abstract expressionist canvases; doctor moans "forgive me! forgive me!"

But no, they will not forgive him. For these shenanigans, Dr. Sands' license to practice medicine is revoked. Without it he naturally falls in with criminals who use him to nefarious ends--mostly extracting bullets from a wide assortment of character actors. In all this, Timothy Hutton is the one bright and shiny object. He visibly relishes his role as Raymond Blossom, a needy sociopath who lures the doctor into his crime ring for no apparent reason!

Hutton handles his Dennis Hopper-style role with more energy and charm than Hopper himself has managed for years, sneering and wheedling his way through dialogue that ought to sound stupid but miraculously doesn't. When he and Duchovny play scenes together, it's as though we're watching performances from two entirely different movies. The one with Hutton is better.

Alas, Playing God is all too focused on Duchovny, and the thrilling, life-or-death drama of practicing medicine. If we believe this movie, simply being a physician is as exciting as sky diving and as morally enviable as tongue-bathing lepers. Dr. Sands is given the kind of blanket respect and access to the divine that the movies customarily assign to priests--this despite the fact that he's a drug addict and a killer. All the characters are nevertheless obsessed with the fact that Dr. Sands has medical training. They don't even call him by name after a while, they just call him The Doctor.

Despite the fact that the on-screen characters put such faith in Dr. Sands' ability to heal, his effect on the audience isn't quite so salubrious. As one patron noted after it was all over: "That gave me a headache."

Though Playing God suffers from predictable action, clichéd dialogue and uneven acting, what really makes it terrible is the fact that it's so very poorly directed. Wilson has no knack for working with actors, true, but what he really fails at is integrating the different elements of the production. It's as though he's been living in Eastern Europe for the past 30 years--all the costumes are wrong, the extras all look like actors, and the sets seem left over from some other movie. During a chase scene, we're treated to whacka-whacka guitar strains lifted from Shaft. At one point a couple of FBI boys refer to the villain Raymond, who has been costumed as a sort of post-punk surfer guy, as "the hippie." What?


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