Filmed in Los Angeles by Chestnut Hill Prods. for HBO Showcase. Executive producers, Jeffrey Lurie, Collin Callender; producers, John P. Marsh, Jay Roewe; director, Lesli Linka Glatter; writers, Susan Black, Lance Gentile; If President Clinton needs a movie to help sell his health care plan, “State of Emergency” would be the perfect fit. The HBO telefilm, starring the always-worth-watching Joe Mantegna, throws light on the dark situation evolving in America’s emergency rooms, where patients far outnumber doctors and available equipment, and where the corporate mentality has replaced the Hippocratic oath.
Based on the experiences of an emergency room doctor, “State of Emergency” dips into fiction for the needed dramatic elements, but the producers, writers and director Lesli Linka Glatter have assembled a no-holds-barred medical drama that smacks of real life.
Tight script by Susan Black and Lance Gentile provides the fuel for a fine perf by Mantegna as John Novelli, an emergency room doctor drowning in frustration.
Just when the boiling point hits, enter hardware king John Anderson (Paul Dooley), who has been in an auto accident and is suffering from head trauma. Anderson’s condition worsens as he lies on a gurney, and Novelli, operating without a neurosurgeon or CAT scanner, improvises a cure that temporarily revives Anderson but proves to be his death blow. Anderson’s wife (Melinda Dillon) files suit and won’t accept a settlement.
Lynn Whitfield gives a strong supporting perf as an emergency room tech, as do Dillon and Dooley.
Telepic opens a bit stiff but loosens up as the action heats up. Underlying political message is overplayed at times, and vidpic spends more time exploring the system’s wounds than investivating how they can be mended.
Nonetheless, “State of Emergency” is provoking and watchable — which is quite a rarity on TV.