Mill Creek Entertainment // 1989 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 25th, 2011
It takes hard work, discipline, and commitment to get through med school...but Joe never does anything by the book.
Of the people I hung out with in high school, fully eighty percent went on to become medical doctors of some kind. When it came time to think about what college to attend and what to major in, a lovely apocryphal story circulated that the major with the highest acceptance rate for medical school was actually ceramics. Because it's such a left-field choice, the story goes, a handful of geniuses each year would major in ceramics, get a 4.0, and ace their MCATs. Sure, only three or four people did this a year, but they were bright enough to get accepted, giving ceramics a hundred percent acceptance rate as a major for medical school. It's a goofy idea, but shows the extremity to which some people will go where med school is concerned. With all that pressure and commitment, there has to be something to break the tension, and that's where a movie like Gross Anatomy (Blu-ray) comes in. Made at the tail end of the 1980s, the film takes a semi-serious look at the humorous side of medicine. It's not a great film, but a pleasant and nostalgic diversion that's finally getting a hi-def release.
Joe Slovak (Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket) is the son of a fisherman who decides he wants to go to medical school. However, he's not going to take it quite as seriously as his fellow students, despite the difficult of first-year courses like Gross Human Anatomy. That last course is taught by hardcore professor Dr. Woodruff (Christine Lahti, Running on Empty), and she takes a special interest in her bright but slacking student, Joe. Joe, however, has a much greater interest in his lab partner, the beautiful Laurie (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs). Joe must survive his first year of medical school, hopefully with his sense of humor intact.
Five different names show up in the writing credits to Gross Anatomy, and that shows in the final product (though not really in a bad way). It's a somewhat schizophrenic film that hopes from genre to genre throughout its 100 minutes. It starts off as a kind of slacker college comedy (like a Real Genius for med school) and gets a bit romantic towards the middle as Joe and Laurie pair off, before ending on a much more dramatic note. Though this is usually the sign of a weak script, it's actually a strength for Gross Anatomy. Rather than playing like a late-Eighties genre piece, the film's everything-but-the-kitchen sink makes it feel a little more timeless than the whacked-out hairstyles would suggest. It also helps that the film isn't trying to be a definitive statement on the rigors of med school; it's a slight film and aims for a comfortable middle, making it easier to appreciate.
With a film like this, stereotypes abound, like the serious Asian student, the smarmy yuppie, and the overworked overachiever, so it lives and dies by its leads. Luckily, Modine, Lahti, and Zuniga are up to the task. Modine gives Joe an easy charm that makes his coasting into med school seem like a remote possibility. Lahti's Dr. Woodruff is both tough-as-nails, but also filled with genuine care for her students, while Zuniga makes the redundant love interest character work for her. Nobody is trying for an award here, so their performances have an ease that makes them fun to watch.
Although it's nice to see this otherwise neglected film get the hi-def treatment, this Blu-ray is only so-so. The 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer is merely okay. The main culprit is an un-remastered print of the film. Damage is pretty evident throughout, with speckling and appearing quite frequently to a distracting degree. Fine lines are also visible on numerous occasions. When the film is looking good it's impressive for its age, with well-rendered grain and fine detail, but these moments are few and far between. The audio option is an old-school stereo track that generally keeps dialogue audible, but the balance between dialogue and other sounds is sometimes a bit off. No subtitles or extras are included.
Gross Anatomy is not a great film. It will largely appeal to fans of Modine, or those who (like myself) have a nostalgic fondness from seeing the film around its original release. The characters aren't great, the plots been done, and the production can feel a bit dated. Lower expectations certainly help a film like this.
Though the film won't be more than a footnote in the history books, Gross Anatomy is a decent little medical dramedy for those willing to overlook the sometimes trite nature of the story. The hi-def package isn't stunning, but the film is worth a rental for the curious and/or nostalgic.
By the book or not, Gross Anatomy is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13