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Article 99 offers satirical view of V.A. bureaucracy

Article 99
Directed by Howard Deutch.
Written by Ron Cutler.
Starring Ray Liotta and Kiefer Sutherland.

By Danny Su
Arts Staff

While Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown is trying desperately to attract your attention with his universal health care plan, Orion Pictures is even more desperately trying to recover from a near bankruptcy by luring your money with its recent release about the crippled health care system for veterans in Article 99. With a mix of comedy and exaggerated reality, Article 99 takes you on a roller coaster ride through the heart and soul of the Veterans' Adminstration Hostipal, displaying the veterans' helplessness and doctors' sensitivity, as well as adminstrators' bureaucracy. Although Article 99 proclaims itself to be the Catch-22 of the '90s, I found that despite a slight lack of realism it was as complex and humorous but more emotionally involving then Catch-22.

The film begins with a veteran, Travis, heading down to the V.A. Hospital with a request for a bypass surgery. Not knowing what's ahead of him, he tells his wife to not worry as he leaves because "Uncle Sam will take of me." He soon discovers his mistake as he walks into the reception area. He is quickly overwhelmed by the waiting lines longer than those for a Celtics playoff ticket and signs more confusing than those found on the Mass. Turnpike. While Travis is waiting, a receptionist refuses to admit another veteran because there is no proof of his disability. Chaos develops as the veteran removes his artificial limb and starts a riot. When Travis reaches the end of the line, the receptionist informs him that the hospital can't admit him until his application is processed. Then the camera follows the path of the application process, tracking through numerous offices and ending in a stock room where there is a mountain of applications, reminiscent of the final scene from Raiders of The Lost Ark.

As Travis, wearing an "L.A." baseball cap, makes his way out of the hospital, he runs into another veteran who asks him if he is a Dodgers fan. Travis replies, "No. I just like Mickey Hatcher because he is all guts, no glory." This reply neatly sums up Dr. Sturgess' (Ray Liotta) character. As a caring and daring heart specialist, Sturgess openly defies the adminstration and performs operations which are necessary for the patients but unauthorized by the hospital. When he needs supplies for these operations, he and his fellow doctors perform "midnight requisitions" in which they steal supplies from the stock room. But his luck runs out when the bureaucratic director Dreyfoos (John Mahoney) sets him up and catches one of these late-night runs on video.

In contrast to Sturgess, Dr. Peter Morgan (Kiefer Sutherland) is a recent medical school graduate who is spending his internship at the V.A. Hospital. With dreams of a private practice in Beverly Hills after his internship, Morgan finds himself caught between the crossfire of Sturgess and Dreyfoos. Although he initially resists Sturgess' unorthodox practices, Morgan eventually joins him as he discovers the real problem of the hospital. As he develops closer bonds with his patients and co-workers, he realizes that the adminstration does not care about them. When he discovers that Dreyfoos is using him to set up Sturgess, he becomes outraged and steals the incriminating videotape from Dreyfoos' office. When Dreyfoos catches Morgan in the act, he threatens Morgan, saying, "If you walk out that door with that tape, I guarantee your medical career will be over." Morgan then replies, "But then there is always your job."

Although the movie is fast paced and sometimes a bit confusing because of its use of medical terminologies, all of the elements add up quite well to display the bureaucratic nature of the hospital. Both Sutherland and Loitta are convincing, as is the rest of the cast. I enjoyed the mockery and was impressed with the development of the doctor-patient relationship.

Article 99 does contain one flaw, though. Orion Pictures cliams that most of the film was based on reality, including the midnight requistions, but I found the last twenty minutes of the film to be an unrealistic case of overkill. After the veterans discover the suspension of Morgan and Sturgess, they take over the entire hospital with one machine gun and hold the medical staff as hostages. I had a hard time believing that the takeover could be so easily accomplished, and I also believe that the police force could have handled the situation much better than the film would have you believe.