Michael J. Fox is an enjoyable comic leading man, but how many films can he make that hang completely on his charm?
Like some of his other pictures, "Doc Hollywood" has some good ideas (though many are taken from other movies) and a terrific cast. But it suffers from a mediocre script (by three screenwriters whose efforts include "The Hard Way," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Pacific Heights").
Add to that some botched comedic timing by the editors and director (Michael Caton-Jones, who also did "Scandal" and "Memphis Belle"), and the result is overall disappointment, despite some sporadic laughs.
Fox's role seems tailor-made: He's a cocky med-school graduate who dreams of becoming a plastic surgeon in Hollywood. When he finishes residency in a Washington, D.C., hospital emergency room, Fox begins his trek to California. But an auto accident finds him waylaid in South Carolina, the small town of Grady to be specific.
There, he is ordered by the local court to spend a week of community service in the local hospital, and, of course, he gets his comeuppance, learns a thing or two about humanity and falls in love with a local girl, who just happens to drive the ambulance.
Anyone who's ever seen a movie will probably be a step ahead of every plot development and certainly every joke. The attempt here is to do something along the lines of "The Egg and I," with a bevy of eccentric rural rubes who prove they're wiser than the city folks they encounter. (Chevy Chase's "Funny Farm" is the most recent film to try this motif.)
But the first third of the movie seems off, with Fox and his friends stumbling in and out of various situations that must have seemed funny on paper but don't quite make the translation to the big screen. (What can you say about a movie that makes big jokes out of vomiting, urinating and a cake shaped like nude female breasts?)
The film does get a bit better as it goes along, but the bevy of terrific character actors Frances Stern-hagen, Barnard Hughes, David Ogden Stiers, Woody Harrelson (who has a funny throwaway line about Ted Danson, his "Cheers" co-star), Roberts Blossom, Bridget Fonda, Eyde Byrde are underused and never seem quite able to overcome the script's hurdles and lack of comedic energy.
All the cast members are good, of course, including Fox and newcomer Julie Warner, as his love interest, but it's simply not enough. (And such unnecessary modern excesses as having Warner introduced by rising up nude from a lake mar the film's attempts at old-fashioned sensibilities.)
All in all a sad misfire, despite some amusing moments in the film's second half.
"Doc Hollywood" is rated PG-13 for nudity, profanity and vulgarity.
JULIE WARNER wasn't quite discovered sipping a soda at Schwabb's Drugstore in Hollywood, as legend suggests happened to Lana Turner. But her show business rise has been almost as rapid.
In her first film, "Doc Hollywood," the 26-year-old actress has the female lead opposite Michael J. Fox. "I'm thrilled, obviously," she said in a phone interview from Denver on the first leg of a publicity tour. "This is a far higher pinnacle than I thought I would reach at this point."
Warner went to Los Angeles from her native New York (after graduating in theater from Brown University) just two years ago, and almost immediately landed the plum role of Andrew Dice Clay's girlfriend on his 1989 HBO special "The Diceman Cometh."
"I guess I felt that New York was my hometown and I wanted to try something different," Warner explained. "I had been told, and kind of knew, that there were more opportunities in Hollywood that's the place with the most luck.
"It was before Andrew became such a big star and my agent said to me, `You're going to meet this guy and I hear he's kind of crazy, kind of wild. So I go in and here's this big, hulking guy with a big belt and he said, `OK, here's the thing, we're going to have a big fight and you call me every dirty name you can think of.' And my New York spirit came through and he liked it."
As to all the controversy surrounding Clay's misogynistic standup act, Warner says, "The controversy is interesting but basically I feel that the public hasn't been able to separate him from his persona, the `Dice-man.' My feeling is that his act is really poking fun at racists and bigots and sexists and all-round terrible guys. I'm not sure if I agree with what he does, but that's what he's trying to do."
The Clay special led to other television work, including guest roles on "21 Jump Street," "Carol & Co." (starring Carol Burnett), "The Outsiders" and "an odd somebody on `Star Trek (The Next Generation).' I was a lieutenant in the cosmos, wearing a lot of turquoise and odd costumes. I was just a nice girl from planet Zarkon or something. I did two episodes."
When the "Doc Hollywood" opportunity came along, Warner says it was the usual audition process. "I went through five auditions and gradually moved up the ranks, then I had a screen test. I think they were originally looking for (a major star) for the role."
She chuckled as she added, "I'm 5-foot-2, and that might have helped," referring to working opposite Fox, who isn't much taller. "They knew we would have this dance scene together. He isn't sensitive about that, but studio doesn't want the movie to be a height joke."
As for the nude scene that introduces her character in the film and serves as Warner's introduction to moviegoers, she says, "I was daunted, sure. It was not something I was incredibly excited about doing, but it was a great way to introduce this character, and it was handled in a non-exploitative, non-sexual way.
"This is an old-fashioned movie where the kiss means something. I felt that the way I appeared as (the character) in the beginning was, `Here I am, a creature of nature, treat me like an equal.' She's certainly not the type who would run off into the woods. But it's not my preference, I'm not an exhibitionist, unless it's really called for in the script."
Warner says she doesn't have another film lined up but expects "Doc Hollywood" to open some doors. "You move on to the next echelon, and I'm certainly competing for the best projects and biggest roles now. But I'm not a proven entity at this point. I'm hoping that when the movie is released that may change a bit."