There’s a scene in Puncture, the new legal thriller directed by Mark and Adam Kassen, of which I am particularly fond. Attorney Mike Weiss is at the end of his rope, defeated by the big pharmaceutical companies he opposes and in the depths of yet another drug-induced stupor when a whistleblower played by Michael Biehn emerges from the shadows to give him “the real story” behind a vast conspiracy to prevent safety needles from going into production. But unlike every other “Deep Throat” scene, Mike’s so hazy that he can hardly make any of his informant’s speech out. It’s a clever bit of storytelling that subverts legal thriller clichés while simultaneously conveying the personal failures of Puncture’s protagonist. If the rest of the movie were this clever, Puncture would be an exciting piece of filmmaking. So it’s a pity that it’s not.
Captain America star Chris Evans plays Mike Weiss, a real-life lawyer with a larger-than-life personality. He shoots smack faster than he can talk it. He wears garish suits that would make your friendly neighborhood pimp cringe. His house is full of crocodiles. But he’s damned good at his job, so when he’s confronted with an underdog case nobody else wants to touch he becomes stubbornly committed. Maybe it fits his inflated ego to take on a multi-billion dollar industry with no resources of his own, or maybe he actually believes in the cause, who knows. Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell) has invented a “safety” needle, which retracts after a single use, preventing hospital staffs from accidental punctures and potentially fatal infections. But hospitals refuse to even look at the product because, as we learn in the film, the bigger pharmaceutical companies have an apparently illegal monopoly on such products. In fact, Weiss soon learns that hospital purchasing departments are under strict orders not to even look at Dancort’s product, and to keep its existence a secret so that the staff can't actually request them.
Despite the Machiavellian nature of the monopoly, there aren’t many thrills in that scenario. No John Grisham-styled unmarked cars or veiled death threats. Instead the film coasts on the charm of Chris Evans, who is genuinely electric in the lead role. Evans doesn’t always get enough credit for his acting prowess, but in Puncture carries the film with ease, despite a character who in lesser hands could have turned into a ridiculous caricature. Weiss feels real regardless of his zany characteristics, partially because of the tragedy of his drug addiction (at least he uses the safety needles), and partially because Evans makes sure his character actually interacts with the real world, even when his own behavior feels like it’s from another dimension entirely. Co-director Mark Kassen makes less of an impression as Weiss’s long-suffering partner Paul Danziger, but ably supports Evans’ performance in the otherwise thankless “Straight Man” role.
The course of events in Puncture glide along quickly and never confuse the audience with unnecessary jargon or details, which is impressive for so intellectual a case, one without a single murder or maiming to keep us awake. But aside from that one scene I loved so much, the film is produced in so minimalist a fashion that genuine involvement becomes difficult, given the dryness of the plot. The Kassen Brothers are telling a familiar story, and a dramatically sound one, and do little to distinguish it from other movies in the genre. The issue at hand is an important one, but given the lack of dramatic novelty it could have used a little visual flare to keep it entertaining. As it stands the film is merely clear, rather than captivating. Puncture is driven by Chris Evans’ exciting performance, but the story just has too many miles on it.
CRAVEONLINE RATING: 6/10