An erratic, psychobabbling jumble of scenes that never builds to any discernible point, Eriq La Salle’s “Crazy as Hell” — the “ER” thesp’s second feature-length directorial effort (after 1996 HBO pic “Rebound”) — is set in a mental hospital where a new patient (La Salle) claims to be the Devil himself. Pic looks headed straight to movie hell (i.e., video and cable), where most auds will be left scratching their heads, wondering if they might need therapy to process what’s transpired onscreen.
Pic follows familiar recipe: Two cups “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and four cups “K-Pax,” with a pinch of “The Ninth Configuration” sprinkled on for seasoning. And like its precursors, “Crazy as Hell” attempts to achieve a perilous balance somewhere between comedy, tragedy and flat-out lunacy.
In the early scenes, La Salle, identifying himself only as “Satan,” is placed under the care of Dr. Ty Adams (Michael Beach), a hotshot psychiatrist who has just arrived at the facility and is the subject of a docu filmmaker’s (John C. McGinley) project.
Adams is renowned for his “anti-medicinal” approach to psychotherapy. This would have added interest to the film, but the way Adams is shown administering his approach is laughable: He humiliates one patient and gets into a slapping match with another.
Of course, Adams has his own heavy psychological baggage, which the film conveys with an equally heavy hand: The hospital administrator (Ronny Cox) offers condolences on his “recent loss” and later Adams is beset by spirit-like visions of his wife and daughter, both presumably dead.
The hospital population itself is conceived as a Fellini-esque assortment of costumed eccentrics and freaks. Satan quickly enchants the other patients, even though, unlike “K-Pax’s” Prot, he’s more interested in wreaking havoc than in helping anyone. Pic even delivers the obligatory “big group outing” scene, a la “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Dream Team.”
“Crazy as Hell” can’t manage a consistent tone. There’s the standard business of Adams uncovering Satan’s “real” identity and backstory, only for the film to later upend that explanation. One expects the pic to settle down into a battle of wits between Satan and Adams, and at one point it seems like it’s going to. But then Satan inexplicably disappears for a stretch (not from the hospital, but from the movie). Finally, pic resolves itself with a woefully contrived twist.
Beach is a reliable performer, but here he’s stuck in a two-note character –either the omnipotent healer or violently grieving his loss. La Salle fares somewhat better as Satan — cackling and swishing about, his head shaved and with a couple of big gold-hoop earrings, like a latter-day Geoffrey Holder — but the character is never as wild and fun as it promises to be.
Shot in 24P widescreen video, pic benefits from a high-resolution film transfer. But in all other respects, it’s fatally handicapped by its look: The film is garishly lit, shot in unnaturally tight closeups and edited in a textbook style that never dares to cut away from the actor speaking. Multihyphenate La Salle has bit off more than he can chew; he neglects his performers and his visuals in equal measure.