Dr. Rae Crane is tasked by her company to find Dr. Robert Campbell, who has holed up deep in the rainforest. When she arrives, he claims to have found a cure for cancer so she decides to give him a chance… but they may not have that long with a new road being built nearby. Can they find the cure (and perhaps love) before it’s too late? Find out in… Medicine Man.
How?! Dr. Crane is looking for Dr. Campbell at the behest of a pharmaceutical company. He has requested a new assistant and gas chromatograph deep in the Amazonian rain forest. When she shows up he’s all like “you aren’t qualified,” but that’s sexist and Dr. Crane ain’t having any of it. She shows her stuff and duly impressed Dr. Campbell shows her what he has: a cure for motherf’n cancer made from a rainforest flower, babbbby. So we all kinda forgive him for being a total asshole. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to replicate his initial findings, called compound 37. In their quest to find the secret they learn to live and love again… but also that a logging road is getting dangerously close to the village and they don’t have much time. To add to the pressure, a child in the village gets cancer and needs the last sample in order to survive. Not willing to give it up Dr. Crane convinces Dr. Campbell to seek out the old Medicine Man. That Medicine Man totally gives them the secret, but they are a couple of dopes but don’t get the hint and use the sample on the child anyway. Just when everything seems lost they discover the secret: it wasn’t the flower at all but the bugs that lived in them (what a twist!). But then everything is still lost because a bunch of bulldozers come into town and start a fire and burn down everything. Noooooo! Not willing to give up Dr. Crane and Dr. Campbell go with the tribe in search of the flower and leave their lives behind. THE END.
Why?! Uh, to cure cancer, duh. Nice MacGuffin alert for Compound 37 here, but there is also the underlying theme of protecting the indiginous populations of the rainforest. Not only from the people building the road, but also from disease if too many people move into the area. That’s why, in the end, Dr. Campbell decides to be so secretive about the cure for cancer. Even though the company would give him everything he wants (and probably pay the logging company to stall the road building in the area) if they knew about it, he already knows from experience that it would be even more devastating to the tribe if he allowed that to happen. He had that happen before and the guilt he felt for bringing disease to the tribe destroyed his life and marriage. So basically he’s not an asshole at all, just a lovely curmudgeon looking out for the well-being of all. Hooray.
Who?! Very small cast and unfortunately Sean Connery doesn’t have to call up the Prez to get the road through Brazil delayed. Just him and Bracco chumming it up. The only truly interesting thing is that concurrent to its release it seemed like it was pretty well known that Tony and Academy Award winning playwright Tom Stoppard did uncredited rewrites on the script (which he did fairly frequently apparently). This normally makes its way into IMDb at some point, but not in this case. But by all accounts it’s true.
What?! All of these latter categories are going to be so boring because the film is set in the middle of nowhere and is so tiny. Like obviously they aren’t snapping into some Slim Jims in the middle of a jungle. But for the low low price of $450 you can get the bird mask that Sean Connery is wearing when we are introduced to his character. Complete with a certificate of authenticity. Wonder why Planet Hollywood is willing to part with such a gem.
Where?! It actually isn’t explicitly stated that this film is set in Brazil, I don’t think. But it’s pretty obvious for a number of reasons. I’m sure based on some of the towns mentioned by Connery that it’s for sure (and obviously the location is somewhat necessary to the plot), so I’ll still give this a C.
When?! I actually think this might be the first film where I could honestly say that there might be absolutely no indication of when it takes place in the entire film… literally no chance of figuring it out. I just can’t even imagine why they would have needed to let you know what the date was… it’s in the jungle. Don’t even have newspapers. Time is totally irrelevant. I guess maybe if I got one of their prop lab notebooks. F.
I can totally understand why this film was made and why Sean Connery and Lorrainne Bracco made it. It’s a classic character study and actor-driven film in the same vein as The African Queen. Exotic location, main love interest (?) who is kind of a dick, and a strong woman protagonist who is a little bit out of her element (a fish out of water, you might say. I just coined that). So I can see why people wanted to make this film and really sink their teeth into a role like this. However… there are some flaws (gasp). FIrst of all, both of their characters are kind of caricatures. She’s a loud and brash New Yorker that is more stereotypical than necessary (given that she’s a very well qualified scientist) and he’s pretty much a bore. Second, and probably the most BMT thing about the film, the twist regarding the bugs being the actual cure is so airmailed and obvious that it borders on ridiculous. Other than those two things, though, I found the film to be pleasant enough to watch… the location in itself was interesting enough for me to be engaged throughout. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Let’s hop into a time machine to when people fundamentally didn’t understand cancer and thought we’d find just like … some random chemical that cures what is effectively like a hundred different diseases. Like that makes sense. Let’s get into it!
P’s View on the Preview – I was very surprised to see this was a McTiernan film. Die Hard, Predator, The Hunt for Red October, he’s smashed out some classics in his time. As a matter of fact there are only three films he directed that I haven’t seen. The most interesting is Nomads which appears to be a horror film that was not released widely, only 500 or so theaters in total. But we are on track to finish his filmography, and this is just a step along the way. Quite a different project to his three famous films though, and not surprising that apparently audiences were annoyed that it wasn’t an action or thriller, but instead a romantic drama.
The Good – I think the first half of the film is very interesting. It is a pretty rare genre, the medical genre. Lorenzo’s Oil comes to mind. Concussion. I Already Work Around the Clock: The Movie (I think it was released as Extraordinary Measures in the States). If you can excuse the overacting from Bracco a bit, I actually think it is quite good. Inverts the White Savior trope as well. Instead of Connery ultimately saving the tribe, he is hoping the tribe can help him save humanity. I like the medical stuff even if it was all a bit nonsense.
The Bad – They completely telegraph the ending of the film, to the point that you wonder if these literal genius-level scientists are in fact dumb people. They aren’t, but the twist is. Also, I could be wrong, but I think the kid who got cancer near the end was eating ants earlier in the film, which, if I know my fake-Medicine-Man-biology means he should have been immune to cancer. Whatever. Bracco’s character is written to be incredibly brash, and I don’t think it works the way it was intended, instead it just results in Bracco yelling a lot for mostly no good reason. A more clever twist and I think this film would have been fine though.
The BMT – I think this is a very specific genre, and could maybe be mentioned alongside Extraordinary Measures eventually as far as bad medical dramas. At the same time I don’t think I would really recommend the film as a bad movie in any capacity, which is usually how I judge these things. I can’t even think of a scene I would show anyone.
Roast-radamus – This is certainly a Setting as a Character (Where?) for Brazil and the Amazon rainforest in general. And arguably a great MacGuffin (Why?), with the cure for cancer (all cancer!) being the Maltese Falcon that the protagonists are going for. And definitely a Worst Twist (How?) for the ultimate conclusion of ants being the cure for cancer … a full half hour after they give you a close up shot of ants crawling all over the magical cancer curing plant. Pretty good line up there, but nothing for good, bad, or BMT I think.
StreetCreditReport.com – Not surprisingly the only cred here is, again, from Siskel and Ebert’s worst of list for 1992. There is this bizarre list from IndieWire which puts it at the 52nd best movie of the 90s … that’s a stretch. I’m actually not sure if Reverse Shot is supposed to be a joke of some kind? Johnny Mnemonic at number 4 feels a tad bit high. I also found it on a list of Left-Wing films for its environmental message. Doesn’t seem to be on any worst or best of environmental lists either.
You Just Got Schooled – There isn’t really a good movie to do alongside this one, so let’s highlight a little fun fact. On the Medicine Man wiki page the first citation is an LA Times article concerning someone suing the production for stealing their film idea. The person suing was, in fact, Wilburn H. Ferguson, a 1930s Amazonian explorer and doctor who came back from the Amazon claiming to have found a cure for cancer (called the Jivaro Head Shrinking Compound, and indeed the Jivaro tribe is one of the few well known head shrinking tribes in the world). Ferguson alleged that he sat down with executives in 1988 and described his story Tsanza, which is the native term for head shrinking, but they passed and independently produced Medicine Man. Not surprisingly, there is no evidence that the concoction that Ferguson sold in the 50s treated cancer. Interestingly the wiki page seems to suggest the film is instead based on the exploits of Richard Evans Schultes, who is considered the father of ethnobotany.