Puncture Movie Review: Captain America Sticks It To The Medical Establishment

While it may seem a bizarre notion that the US health care and pharmaceutical industries thrive on keeping you sick rather than cures, that’s exactly what seems to be going down on a daily basis in this country, however unexplored. Which is why it so often regrettably takes a movie to educate and enlighten people in the theaters rather than the classrooms or media these days. And the gritty and uncompromising Puncture is a commendable case in point.

A grim docudrama loosely based on the reckless life and premature demise of contentious Texas lawyer Mike Weiss, Puncture touches on a dark episode in recent medical history in this country. And involving a corporate conspiracy to secretly suppress the introduction of a retractable disposable syringe in the 1990s. A medical advance that could have saved thousands of health care professional lives here and millions of African and Asian lives abroad. And related to HIV and Hepatitis C contamination through either accidental needle pricks or recycling of contaminated syringes in impoverished nations.

A kind of Lincoln Lawyer sequel this year, when it comes to shady lawyers turned idealistic attorneys, Puncture is directed by brothers Adam and Mark Kassen (the sons of lifelong health care professionals themselves), and stars Chris Evans as Mike Weiss. Still fighting the good fight in a movie but for real this time around and without any special effects, Captain America’s Evans as Weiss – and for reasons that aren’t quite clear – abandons seedy ambulance chasing and takes on the health care and pharmaceutical corporations to expose their wrongdoing for profit. In this case blocking the introduction of a safe needle crafted by an independent inventor, simply because they don’t possess the lucrative copyright.

No stranger to drug paraphernalia himself, Weiss is deep into drugs and hookers when not managing to stumble into court disheveled but ready to rumble. Perhaps it was his drug-induced danger junkie tendencies that led Weiss to take on the nearly impossible and differently dangerous challenge of litigating against the firmly entrenched powerful medical establishment. The virtually hopeless case was eventually partially victorious, resulting in a $150 million dollar pre-trial settlement and the Needle Safety And Prevention Act.

But not before millions had already perished, and Weiss himself succumbed to the ravages of drugs or even possibly foul play at the age of 32. And, while recycled needles still cause over 1.2 million deaths a year, and over 20 million potentially fatal Hepatitis C infections in Africa and India.

Puncture gets it more than right when scrutinizing the ordeal entailed along the rocky road of anti-corporate litigation, but in the process sacrifices dramatic momentum. Which ends up more as detour than narrative driving force, and as fragmented conflicts emanating from the personal lives of Weiss, his less than eager cautious family man legal partner Paul Danziger (co-director Mark Kassen) and Houston ER nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), whose tragic fate initially precipitates these roller coaster catastrophic events.

And though Puncture wraps up at this point in time, there’s much more in the way of follow-up that begs for a possible sequel. Including a subsequent related criminal investigation commenced by the US Attorney’s Dallas office. But stalled when just weeks apart from each other, the two US attorneys investigating the case die under suspicious circumstances. Forty-four year old attorney Shannon Ross passed away suddenly of a mysterious illness, and lawyer Thelma Quince Colber was fifty-five years old when found dead face down in a pool. Followed by three other assistant US attorneys working on the case, who were fired or forced to resign.

Millennium Entertainment

Rated R

3 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.