The following is a reprint of our review from the Tribeca Film Festival.
In 1998, Jeffrey Dancourt created the one-stick syringe, which helped save the lives of several medical professionals, while keeping costs down for supplies in the medical industry. The problem was that the industry, already the beneficiary of multimillion dollar agreements with supplies companies, refused the device. “Puncture” deals with the man’s engagements with two working class lawyers, the only ones willing to take on an un-winnable case against millionaire lawyers and the enormously powerful lobbies they represent.
“Puncture” would have enough for a compelling narrative if that were the entire story. But there lies a curious wrinkle in the case: Mike Weiss, one of the lawyers, was a highly functioning drug addict, who helped spearhead the case while managing a debilitating heroin addiction. Action hero Chris Evans, with his broad shoulders, blond locks and cocksure demeanor, gives this man a compelling movie star appeal, sexualizing his shirtless crack house forays as well as his Armani-clad courtroom disposition. First-time directors Adam and Mark Kassen don’t shy away from the character’s neediness or chemical dependency, but Evans’ natural charisma keeps him endearing.
“Puncture” is a film of a few solid performances (veteran character actor Marshall Bell is memorably cranky as Dancourt) and some questionable ones (playing Paul Danzinger as well as co-directing, Mark Kassen is allowed to dominate his scenes). What dooms the picture in regards to a fairly engaging premise and unfussy direction is its allegiance to the particulars of the true story. In addition to time spent with nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), who contracts AIDS from an accidental needle stick and becomes a martyr to the cause our heroes didn’t require, there is an attempt to sanctify Weiss as a diligent freedom fighter who wouldn’t back down from a dominant enemy, in this case an absurdly mustache-twirling fat cat lawyer played by Bret Cullen.
At this point, Evans’ portrayal gives way to monologues and over-dramatic line readings and it becomes less of a Big Issues film and more like Lucas Lee’s Oscar reel. It’s an unnecessary concession to Hollywood theatrics, going from a mostly involving “Erin Brockovich”-style story of legally fighting the good fight into an over-compensatory star vehicle for the handsome, frequently-shirtless Evans. “Puncture” isn’t about an issue as much as it’s about the dedication of an obviously sick man who refused treatment for his addictions as he took on one of the biggest medical cases in history. If he wore a cape, there would be very little separating Evans’ character from another he has played: “Captain America.” [C+]