'Article 99' bashes bureaucracy at a VA hospital




First of all, Article 99 is the name of a typically Catch-22 type of governmental provision that promises veterans full medical benefits but denies them treatment because their diagnosed condition cannot be specifically related to military service. Using that as a premise, the movie named after the provision is a sort of hybrid of the bureaucratic-bashing "Catch 22" and "MASH," with a bit of the cynicism of "The Hospital" thrown in.

Dr. Leonard Sturgess (Ray Liotta) shares many characteristics of "MASH's" "Hawkeye" Pierce; a maverick surgeon who dresses sloppily, shows up late for meetings at which he makes snide comments, and whose compassion for patients is equaled only by his disdain for authority.


His war zone is not the battlefield, however. It is a contemporary Veterans Administration hospital in which the administrator seems to relish implementing each new budgetary cutback.

Sturgess, meanwhile, heads up his own renegade staff within the hospital that is intent on seeing that everyone who needs medical help gets it, whether they have the proper clearances or not. This means forging documents, breaking rules and shuffling patients from room to room and even into the basement and storage areas until they can be helped. It also means midnight break-ins of supply rooms so they can steal medical necessities from their own hospital to perform unauthorized but lifesaving operations.

If Sturgess is Hawkeye, then Dr. Peter Morgan is "Trapper" John, although he's a reluctant partner at first. (Interestingly, Sutherland's father, Donald Sutherland, played the part of "Hawkeye" in the original film of "MASH.") Morgan is the new young intern around whom this story turns. His stay at the hospital is intended to be a brief one on the way to a lucrative private practice. But he is first shocked by the level of medical care, or lack thereof, at his new post and then shocked by the cavalierly rebellious activities of Sturgess and his unofficial staff of assistants. It's only after a patient dies with whom he had developed a bond (Eli Wallach) that Morgan commits himself to "the cause."

But by this time, things have gotten out of hand; the disabled self-appointed commander of the patients (Keith David) has rallied his wheelchair-bound troops to chain themselves together a human wall in front of the hospital, and the administrator (John Mahoney) has called in the federal troops.

Director Howard Deutch succeeds in not allowing the comedic chaos and sophomoric antics of the staff to interfere with his message. And he gets plenty of help from his talented cast, which includes notable supporting performances by John C. McGinley and Forest Whitaker as Sturgess' wise-acre lieutenants and Kathy Baker as a psychiatrist who wants to do more than psychoanalyze Sturgess.


(New Line, 1992)

Directed by Peter Yates; starring Penelope Ann Miller, Timothy Daly and Louis Jordan.


There's plenty of fun in this romantic comedy adventure, but it too often feels as if they are all trying too hard. Screenwriter William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") seems to be trying too hard to make all the dialogue cute and clever. Director Peter Yates ("Bullitt," "The Deep," "Suspect") seems to be trying too hard to emulate other films, particularly "Romancing the Stone."

Timothy Daly, of television's "Wings," has his charming moments as a kind of adventurer who has been sent to collect a rare bottle of wine (called The Year of the Comet for its extraordinary vintage) from the woman who happened upon it in a Scottish castle (Penelope Ann Miller). The two, of course, are cultural opposites reluctantly attracted to each other as one mishap after another dogs them around the world, all the while trying to elude would-be thieves.