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Intermission

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by Jim Wunderle

"Patch Adams"

Directed by: Tom Shadyac

Starring: Robin Williams, Monica Potter

Rated: PG-13

I guess it's not surprising that Robin Williams, the Jim Carrey of a generation ago, should end up working with the team who put together "Ace Ventura," the film that catapulted Carrey into the $20-million-per-picture bracket.

Williams began his career as the manic alien Mork from Ork in what is still one of the strangest (even by '70s standards) premises for a sit-com ever devised.

"Mork and Mindy" was a big hit, though, and Williams gained fame as a machine-gun-paced, manic stream-of-consciousness stand-up comedian. Much of his mania was chemically inspired, however, and he nearly succumbed to drug burnout.

Then came the movie career. Outside of his first film, "Can I Do It 'Til I Need Glasses?", which was about as good as you'd imagine, given the title, Williams landed some plum roles, working for respected directors. He played the title character in Robert Altman's "Popeye" in 1982 and landed the lead in George Roy Hill's film version of the popular John Irving novel "The World According to Garp" two years later.

Audiences loved Williams, and these roles and others early on were still of a comedic bent. Williams first proved himself in a purely dramatic role in the 1989 Peter Weir drama "Dead Poets' Society," a role that garnered Williams his second Oscar nomination.

Since then he's built his career on playing poignantly funny, touching characters in films such as "The Fisher King," "Awakenings" and "Good Will Hunting." With his latest effort he sticks to his style and is quite good.

The trouble here is the fact that director Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk paint in such broad strokes that the film comes off as a series of platitudes in desperate need of some fleshing out.

The proctology jokes, the gynecology jokes, the masturbation jokes and the sight gags involving bed pans and enema bulbs would be much more at home in a Jim Carrey movie, I'm afraid.

Williams is the title character, Hunter "Patch" Adams, and as the story opens we find him committing himself to a mental hospital because of serious thoughts of suicide. The first act of "Patch Adams" recalls though it's not in the same league Randall Patrick McMurphy and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Patch befriends many of the other patients on the ward and is amazed at how cold the hospital staff is toward these people. By being friendly, and at times downright goofy, and by honestly showing interest in these folks, Patch believes he's helping them. This gives him new cause for living and upon his release, we find Patch enrolling in medical school.

Much like what happened to the Delta House boys in "Animal House," Patch finds himself at odds with the stodgy old dean, played stodgily by character actor Bob Gunton. It's a stereotypical role, but much of this film is based on stereotypes.

There's Philip Seymour Hoffman as Patch's roommate, a serious medical student from a long line of doctors, who struggles with his studies but still can't outrank Patch at grade time. Of course there's the love interest, a beautiful young medical student (played by Monica Potter who you'll swear is Julia Roberts using a pseudonym) who at first is turned off by Patch's unorthodox ways but eventually grows to love him.

Stodgy old Dean Walcott threatens Patch with expulsion if he doesn't stay away from the patients, much to the dismay of not only the patients but the nurses on the ward who, at first, are turned off by Patch's unorthodox ways but eventually grow to love him. (If this sounds much like the relationship with the love interest, blame Oedekerk, not me.)

Not to be outdone by any stodgy old dean, Adams and some buddies take over an old ranch house in the mountains and open The Gesundheit Institute, a free clinic that uses Patch's "laughter is the best medicine" approach to health care.

The predictable comes to pass, the state medical association gets wind of the clinic and since no one that works at the place is actually even a doctor, Adams is brought up on charges and faced with expulsion and losing his chance at becoming a doctor. I don't want to give away the ending, but you probably have it figured out anyway.

The film, which is based on a true story, does make some good points. The medical industry could use some fixing up and I think we all wish doctors would act a little more "human" at times. I just wish the writer and director had spent more time developing some of the plot points and fine tuning their rather mundane script.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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