Patch Adams (1998)

Never underestimate the power of Robin Williams with a superobjective. Despite the despicable, execrable, pathetic nature of Tom Shadyac's Patch Adams, Williams really hits it out of the park. Disabled by the fact that the film was apparently written by a lone blindfolded man with a movie-plot machete and a dream, Williams takes all the wildly disparate moments given to him and creates the character of a man we really like. We don't believe that anything in the film ever did or could happen, but if they did, boy, Robin Williams plays every moment how Patch Adams would have lived them.

It seems irresistible, of course. Stick Williams in the role of the little kid who lives in a man's body and just stand back. And it is a wonderful idea. In fact, it's so wonderful that they've already done it seven times. First, they called it "Mork and Mindy," and then they called it Hook, and then they called it The Fisher King, and then they called it Toys, then they called it Mrs. Doubtfire, and then they called it Jumanji. And then they called it Jack. Now it's called Patch Adams, and man, why don't they ever quit while they're ahead?

Patch Adams is the story of a medical student who doesn't believe in the prevailing wisdom of the medical profession, namely, that for some brief period from about 1965 to 1969, the professors in med schools in Virginia believed that you should be very rude to your patients, call them by numbers, march them to their deaths with some aid and no comfort, and generally scowl and be jerks to them. Hey, it made sense at the time. (Answer: No, it didn't, and it doesn't, and it never happened.) Why, oh why, we wonder if we are idiots, wouldn't someone stand up and put a stop to this kind of nastiness? Luckily, Patch Adams (Robin Williams) has a vision. Even a double vision, and how much more can you ask for? Patch Adams realizes that "you treat the person, and I guarantee you'll win every time, no matter what the outcome." Well, duh.

Naturally, this kind of "Have a nice day" approach to medicine doesn't go over big with meanies, and, as we all know, meanies are in power. Led by evil superbaddy Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton, poor man), who scowls and has a WASP-y name and seems to wear too much eye makeup, the forces of the establishment make it clear to Patch that making patients happy "will not be tolerated!" Everybody say, "Boo!" Now put your hands in the ai-er! Wave 'em like you just don't cay-er!

Patch Adams tries desperately to win our hearts. The patented Robin Williams Montage o' Laughs works every time, and it works here, too. We're always on Patch's side, but the obstacles he faces are so outrageously stupid that we don't believe in them at all. He has to get past the evil doctors, the uptight students, and even, finally, to the shame of everyone associated with the film--but mainly the director, Shadyac, and writer, Steve Oedekerk--he has to get past a crazy psycho killer in the Norman Bates mode, and one Norman Bates this year was already more than enough. (I'm not kidding. There's a crazy psycho killer.)

And the sentimentality! I don't mind sentimentality, but I need a purer grade. There's a scene where Adams helps an old lady who won't eat, and it was like Beavis and Butt-Head had tried to write a sensitive medical drama. You could hear everyone in the audience think, or actually say, "Huh-huh. Noodles."

I got the feeling, during the film, especially at the end, that I was watching The Waterboy II: Med School. I got mooned, I got stupid platitudes and cheesy revenge moments, and shots of every crazy from the film in the crowd, smilin' and wavin' and bein' crazy. Except The Waterboy was funny. Patch Adams doesn't know what it wants to be.


Links for Patch Adams

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

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