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SCREEN SPY: "Crazy As Hell"

SCREEN SPY: "Crazy As Hell"

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier

For his first feature, did Eriq LaSalle intentionally select a protagonist much like Dr. Benson? Ty Adams is a psychotherapist, not a surgeon, but his drive, arrogance and perfectionism will be familiar to viewers of 'ER'. As will Michael Beach, who plays the role (and played Jeannie Boulet's husband on 'ER'.) It turns out Beach and LaSalle went to Juilliard together. And John C. McGinley, from "Scrubs", who plays a director here, went to NYU Grad with LaSalle. His character directs a 'reality' production that follows Adams with visible and hidden cameras as he applies his controversial methods at a public institution.

So who does LaSalle play?

Satan. So explicitly named, with a shaved head and sexual ambivalence underscored by long manicured nails and a variety of cross-gender outfits. Though, as we're shown several times, he can be as manly as they come when the situation calls for it.

There are multiple antagonists and/or manipulators here. The conflict between Adams and the older therapist who heads the institution is a little too neatly symbolized by an on-going chess game that starts almost as soon as they meet. The filmmaker, whose innumerable hidden cameras capture even Adams' most intimate (and sometimes out of control) movements, is as malevolently manipulative as Satan - who may or may not be the real thing. And Satan himself, though nominally an inmate, continually reminds his doctor who's really in charge.

The central drama here is a family tragedy that resonates in one of the more difficult cases Adams encounters. There's an echo of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in how this ultimately plays out, but it also appears to be the key to one of the film's sharper turns. 'Appears', I say, because we're left to draw our own conclusions on how Adams has ended up where he is.

Not all the film is that subtle. A scene where the doctor first confronts a difficult inmate screams 'character point' and a few lines that seem set up for laughs fall flat. Overall, much of the film seems over-familiar - a maverick hotshot vs. a conservative older man, a supernatural character who may or may not be the real thing, a man haunted by guilt trying to give himself a second chance. The actors are all excellent, but can't always get around the clunkiness or predictability in the script. Visually, it's a handsome film. The lush décor of the old-fashioned hospital is seductively photographed, as are some more stylized interiors.

At any rate, I'm sure 'ER' fans will want to see this - if only to see the former Dr. Benson dance. Dance like the Devil, that is.