Working from a fact-based script, tyro helmers Adam and Mark Kassen fashion an impassioned expose on the health-care industry full of strange-but-true incongruities in “Puncture.” While “Erin Brockovich” cast a colorful bimbo as leader of a life-and-death legal battle against corporate greed, the Kassens go a step further, presenting a glory-seeking cokehead lawyer (Chris Evans) as a crusader for safety-point needles at hospitals. Though conceptually intriguing, the mix of downward drug spiral with uphill struggle for good never really coalesces. Pic might prove too commercially downbeat for Evans’ “Captain America” fans, while purists might prefer a straight-ahead docu approach.
After Houston-based nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) is accidentally pricked by a syringe and develops AIDS, inventor friend Jeffrey Danfort (Marshall Bell) designs a safety-point needle that would render such mishaps impossible. Attempting to convince hospitals to make the switch, he runs into a wall of resistance thrown up by those in the health-care industry, including buyers and established suppliers, who deem the slightly increased cost of the new needles prohibitive despite the tens of thousands of workers at risk yearly.
His precedent-setting lawsuit rejected by larger firms, Danfort finds himself in the offices of ambulance chasers Weiss & Danziger, lawyers with complementary personalities: While Weiss (Evans) loves living dangerously, in and out of court, Danziger (co-helmer Mark Kassen) always plays it safe. Both fledgling attorneys are barely scraping by, Weiss with an expensive drug habit and Danziger with a wife and child to support. Eager to challenge the big boys in a case of potential national prominence, Weiss winds up fully committing to the cause, despite his partner’s serious misgivings.
But Weiss’ cocaine use, which initially sharpened his edge and drove his eloquence to new heights, starts dragging him down. After his wife leaves him, he hangs out with hookers, using drug dealers and pimps as sounding boards for his opening statements. He shows up late to meetings and almost loses a powerful ally when she recognizes what his nervous jitters and powder-streaked nostrils imply.
The filmmakers obviously hoped to pull off a giant-killer vehicle with a “Verdict”-type flawed hero at its center, but Evans’ buff body, very much on display, and drug-induced megalomania fail to elicit much sympathy. Further, the Kassens’ methodical, TV-movie treatment delivers more moral outrage than human tension. The arrival on the scene of Brett Cullen as a once-idealistic lawyer who long ago crossed over to the villains’ side momentarily galvanizes the proceedings, but ultimately, the film’s reliance on reality to weave together the film’s disparate strands leaves too many loose ends.