Patch Adams
Rating -

Comedy / Drama (US); 1998; Rated PG-13; 115 Minutes

Robin Williams: Patch Adams
Daniel London: Truman
Monica Ptter: Carin
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Mitch
Bob Gunton: Dean Walcott
Josef Sommer: Dr. Eaton

Produced by Allegra Clegg, Alan B. Curtiss, Mike Farrel, Barry Kemp, Marvin Minoff, Decorah Moos-Hankin, Charles Newirth, Steve Oedekerk, Tom Shadyac and Marsha Garces Williams; Directed by Tom Shadyak; Screenwritten by Steve Oedekerk

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Written by DAVID KEYES

I have a vision of a possible future for "Patch Adams." In forty years, science and technology will enable other animal species to speak human dialects, ranging from English to French to German. Wild beasts that had once been studied by biologists would become world leaders, political figures, scholars, etc., because their gifts will bring them into the spotlight. Gorillas could be on "Jeopardy"; pigs could be prison guards; and numerous other animals, pleased with their lives, could even develop a fetish for going to the movies. I see that, every Saturday, a bunch of them would get together to view a film. One weekend, they decide to pick up a classic Robin Williams flick, and they come across this. Halfway into it, after anticipation has built up, something strange and unexpected happens. Cats cough up hairballs. Elephants relieve themselves on the TV screen. Hyenas stop laughing. Two monkeys look at one another, scratch their heads, and proclaim, "They called us stupid?"

Think a moment about the observation you have just read. Ridiculous, isn't it? Animals talking in real life? Maybe that's something that happens in movies like "Babe: Pig In The City," but not reality. Yet, there's an appropriately lifelike connection between the observation and why it was used in this review: "Patch Adams" is that silly, obnoxious, low-down dirty shame of a movie that Robin Williams has been repeatedly starring in for the past few years. The film is supposedly 'based on a true story,' but I cannot recall anything like this in any type of history. To buy into it is to believe the first paragraph of this review. Both are impossible, fake scenarios. Only one of them makes sense in the end.

The movie plays like a touchy-feely-happy-saddy melodrama, in which gags put on by the main stars are meant to put you in a cheerful mood, and the situations involved within the development of their dark lives are supposed to leave you in tears. Very good melodrama doesn't try to exploit humor every opportunity it has. Movies that are manipulative in this sense can still retain some dignity as long as its characters are convincing enough. A script has to accomplish that. Heck, sometimes, humor is an appropriate space-filler. But "Patch Adams" has too much annoying humor up its sleeve, and an overwhelming amount of difficult tear-jerker situations that cannot be believed. The movie is a bad mix of everything it tries. People who know enough about movies to tell a good one from a bad one know cheap shots and joyless plots when they see them. Others who don't have the appropriate exposure to movies cannot determine the source of impact (does it come from the heart or does the script make us think it does?). Thus, they simply give up and let themselves be manipulated. Sometimes, they don't even know it.

But that's not the absolute problem, really. It's not so bad because it mix-matches comedy and drama in every way it can think of. The real rotten thing is Robin Williams, whose maniacal and half-baked performance as this 'over-happy' medical student takes all the charm and appreciation we should feel and condemns it on a level that cannot be tolerated. The movie opened close to "Stepmom," another manipulatively structured melodrama, only there, the film's characters were not mental maniacs who turned the script into a loathsome piece of garbage. The convincing performances in that movie at least prompted us to fall for everything it manipulated us into believing (sort of). "Patch Adams" does not have the logic nor the right actor to accomplish something like that. Williams' crazy character is like a mix of every other wild-thing persona in his career, and so the portrait of this 'true-life' character feels and acts more like it's Williams' own life story. Here, he's the absent-minded professor with a clown nose. The movie is "Flubber" with a medical license.

Patch Adams is the name of Williams' character, a somewhat mentally ill man who, at the beginning of the movie, checks himself into a mental hospital after attempting suicide. While there, he is exposed to a treatment that inspires him and gives him the willpower to practice medicine, and soon, after bonding with other patients in the mental ward, he enrolls himself into a medical University. There, he has the notion that the best way to heal patients is to emotionally bond with them, although the text books play by the rules and make it perfectly clear that a real good doctor does not make any type of mental connection with their patients (of course, that seems logical, if you think about it). He doesn't care. Adams is that type of character where the insane factor of his personality is his cheerful attitude and zest for life--basically, the kind of obnoxious personality that Robin Williams has attached on over half of his movie roles. There is a subplot involving Patch and his roommate not getting along very well (that situation deserves to be titled "Saving Patch Adams"), but that is quickly thrown out the window. The comedy routines make it perfectly clear that nothing else should be the main focus of our attention. They want us to laugh our heads off, basically. After time, though, his gags and emotional grip to his patients get distracting and unnecessarily overwrought, eventually concluding with complete ineptness. In a notorious subplot in the film, Adams treats a dying cancer patient played by Peter Coyote. Not only do we see him perform all aspects of physical humor; he also wears fake body parts.

Robin Williams should know better. He won his Oscar for "Good Will Hunting," and he roused his audiences in "What Dreams May Come." Why would one want to go back to this lame-brained material after it is the exact thing that almost ruined his career in the first place? If he, like the audience he reaches, thinks that this is a sentimental yet award-worthy movie, I have no respect for his career decisions anymore.

As for you people who enjoyed the movie; see if I care. I won't mind that you have fallen under an obvious spell, just don't try to get me to believe that this was actually a real story. I'll believe it just as much as I'll believe that animals will be able to talk like humans one day. At least with that scenario, animals might have something amusing to say.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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