The director of Nell and the star of Mad Dog Time bring you a biting and incisive look at the mental health care system. Yeah, and Judge Patrick Naugle has never eaten a Ding-Dong.
A comedy of epidemic proportions.
Richard Pryor is Eddie, a small-time crook with a big-time mouth. After Eddie is arrested in a sting operation involving a large suitcase filled with money (is there any other kind?), he attempts to plead insanity to keep from going to jail (where he will most certainly be pummeled by the other men also caught in the sting). While inside the mental wing of a local hospital, Eddie attempts to persuade the tough-as-nuts Dr. Chambers (Joe Mantegna, Airheads) that he's insane, to no avail.
The night before Eddie's to be transferred to his new home behind bars, a power outage hits the hospital, setting in motion a chain of events that ends up with Chambers held hostage in the mental ward while Eddie roams the hospital corridors under the assumption that he's a trained medical doctor. Using his guise to his advantage (and stuck in the hospital due to a nasty storm), Eddie begins seeing patients, working with the hospital's doctors (Bob Dishy and a pre-Full House Bob Saget) and flirting with the lead administrator (Rachel Ticotin, Total Recall). But when the body of a local policeman washes into the basement and a dangerous criminal escapes, it's up to Eddie to save both the medical staff and his own skin.
While watching Critical Condition, I was struck by the obvious fact that Hollywood never fully utilized Richard Pryor's talents. A near godfather to the stand-up genre, Pryor is a legend when it comes to biting wit and acidic observation—acts like Chris Rock owe a great debt to the comedian. What Richard Pryor won't be remembered for half as well are his acting roles. Yes, Pryor does have a small handful of movies (Silver Streak, Stir Crazy) that are fondly remembered, but those are small potatoes in comparison to all the duds he churned out (including but not limited to: Harlem Nights, Moving, Brewster's Millions, and the universally lambasted Superman III).
Oops, I'm sorry—add Critical Condition to that list as well.
Although Critical Condition isn't a terrible movie, it's not a particular good one, either. Once again, Pryor's manic energy and persona feel as if they've been caged so the movie can color inside the lines of the Hollywood system. Pryor (who looks thin and almost sickly) scurries around the sets barking comedic orders to various patients, orderlies, and doctors. This is bulk of the movie and it's never very much fun.
The supporting cast is made up of Rachel Ticotin as Pryor's love interest, Bob Saget (!) as a first year intern (looking miles away from Full House, which would follow on a few short years later), and Joe Mantegna as a grumpy administrator (who, in all fairness, seems to be having the most fun with this material). The production values feel like it was made on a limited budget, even with a scene involving a helicopter flying around the lobby of hospital (completely unrealistic, to say the least).
Like heading to a carnival for cotton candy, picking up Critical Condition at your local Blockbuster may seem like a good idea at the time, but you'll quickly find this cinematic snack isn't very fulfilling. It's a shame since Pryor was an actor whose true potential was never quite reached. Critical Condition is worth your time only if you are a Richard Pryor completist, and even that might be stretching it.
Critical Condition is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount's work on this transfer is decent, if unexceptional. The colors appear to be in solid shape, though there is a bit of bleeding in a few scenes. The black levels are nicely rendered with only a small amount of grain penetrating the picture. The major flaw with this transfer is that it looks slightly worn and dull—I guess that 1986 was about as good a year for film stock as it was for Richard Pryor comedies.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in English. This is an amazing soundtrack! Things explode from every direction! Flood waters rush in behind the viewer! Alien spacecraft shoot in from the sky and…ah, okay, so this sound mix is about as enticing as watching grass grow. Hey, at least the dialogue, music, and effects are clearly heard. That's something, isn't it? Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Someone call a doctor, quick! Critical Condition is in just that—there isn't a single extra feature included on this disc.
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