MEDICINE MAN prescribes two courses of treatment. One goes down like a milkshake, the other like castor oil. Directed by the usually on-target John McTiernan, written by Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society), its intentions were keen: comment on the heedless destruction of a precious environment, do so with a tart adventure in the vein of The African Queen. Several ingredients work smoothly, making it worth a view—and particularly a listen—but a critical component simultaneously has it a chore—again, distinctly when it comes to hearing.
‘Dr. Robert Campbell’, scientist (Sean Connery: dude), has spent years in the Brazilian rain forest, seeking a cancer cure in the flora. His sponsors send ‘Dr. Rae Crane’, biochemist (Lorraine Bracco: ‘broad’) into the jungle to find out what he’s found, if anything. Immediate clashing leads to grudging co-operation, then mutual respect, even—?…
The bickering-becomes-affection angle, old as the Amazon, is not a surprise, though the May-October ploy (Connery, 61, Bracco, 36) is handled discreetly. The butterflies-meet-bulldozers background, though visited years earlier in other films, was still topical—and tragically remains so decades after this 1992 exploration.*
Connery believed in the property enough to be Executive Producer and he picked Bracco after seeing the brassy Brooklynite’s stellar work in Goodfellas. Ten weeks of filming ensued in the jungle outside Veracruz, Mexico, temperatures of 115 ensuring the sweat wasn’t makeup. McTiernan said it cost $27,000,000, the IMDB has it thirteen more. It wasn’t a harmonious shoot—director and star, who’d worked well together on The Hunt For Red October declined future projects when this wrapped, and Bracco was miserable throughout. On release, critics flayed. Grosses in the US came to $45,600,000, placing 35th for the year.
The luxuriant natural settings are well captured by Donald McAlpine’s camera. Connery, sporting a ponytail modeled after composer Jerry Goldsmith’s trademark do, is fine and dandy as the crusty Scot doc (he gets in some of his treasured golf-ball whacking, with gleeful native kids retrieving the orbs from the overgrowth). Master Goldsmith meanwhile, assigned scoring duties, gives the story a lovely soundtrack, another notch in his array of 247 composer credits. Listening to his music makes up for the film’s regrettable flaw, much of which is “sonic in nature”.
Here we come fingernail-to-blackboard with the deal-breaker that kept the movie from winning, Lorraine Bracco, who drew the harshest barbs of criticism. To be gallant, she’s miscast. Okay, can the nice, she’s…terrible. Make it both. Her vocal range goes from whine to squawk, then combines those endearing bleats so that it feels like an earache paired with a wisdom tooth. If the film was played strictly as a comedy, the Yonkers honking would be more bearable. Her character is supposed to be from the Bronx; much is made of this, and it doesn’t help to endure it any more than if she was from Pluto. After 106 minutes of nasal assault, you have abandoned caring whether Sean will pull a cure for cancer and begin to evilly muse about crocodiles solving her accent malady.
* Thespian tonal issues are one thing. As to the rather more pressing tropic trauma, At Play In The Fields Of The Lord beat this into theaters by a year, but The Emerald Forest had been there in 1985, The Mosquito Coast in ’86. More recently, check out 2015s acclaimed Embrace Of The Serpent. The suicidal demolition of the planet’s lungs –and heart—goes on and on…