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Movie Review: Puncture

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Puncture is an intensely earnest little film, one that deals with a serious issue while trying to tell an equally compelling personal story.

But the issue at hand is not particularly cinematic - we barely see the incident that triggers the legal case that occupies much of the film. And the personal story is handled in a way that seems surprisingly impersonal, even superficial.

Based on a true story, Puncture focuses on the legal firm of Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) and Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), Houston lawyers who make a specialty out of liability cases. Danziger is the plodder, Weiss is the hotshot. We know this because, when first seen, the much-tattooed Weiss is snorting coke with hookers while working on his cross-examination for a big case, when he phones his partner, who is home asleep in bed with his pregnant wife.

They take on the case of a nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted AIDS after being stuck with a needle while injecting tranquilizer into some thrashing, emergency-room druggie on PCP. She's not suing because of her illness; rather, she wants her lawyers to do something about the fact that, while there is a safe disposable syringe available, none of the hospitals in Texas (or anywhere else) will buy them because they're all at the mercy of their Group Purchasing Organizations.

So this becomes a case between the little guy - an inventor (Marshall Bell) who has come up with a safe, non-reusable syringe - and the big, bad medical establishment. The latter - still unfettered after the bill that has come to be known as Obamacare - is so well connected that it already has legislation in place making it legal for the GPOs to take kickbacks from the companies it does business with.

But this David-v.-Goliath tale must share screen time with Mike Weiss' battles with his own personal demons. Aside from snorting coke, he's a full-fledged IV drug user who is perpetually late to court and meetings and who suffers from regular nosebleeds because he spends so much time in bathrooms tooting up. Eventually, he collapses - but even after a diagnosis of a variety of potentially fatal symptoms, his partner never actually has an onscreen heart-to-heart with him.

It becomes a race as to which will collapse first: Weiss' health or his legal case. The latter suffers from the fact that his opponent controls the courts, the press and even the legal establishment; firms that have been funneling cases to Weiss and Danziger to keep them solvent suddenly aren't able to do so because of the GPO's economic grasp.

Directors Adam and Mark Kassen obviously have a lot of friends; they pull in actors like Kate Burton, Michael Biehn, Jessie L. Martin and Shaw for what amount to tiny supporting roles. And they have the star-quality of Evans and the competent good-old-boy sleaze of Brett Cullen (as opposing counsel) to fill out the cast.

Yet, as good as Evans is at conveying Weiss' disintegration, there's little that feels dramatic or compelling about the story-telling. Even a crusty veteran like Marshall Bell, as the politically unsavvy inventor of the safe syringe, can't give this film the juice it needs.

As a result, Puncture fades from memory, almost before it's left the screen.

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