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For, Friday, July 29, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Warner Archive, the groundbreaking manufacture-on-demand website, has begun reissuing movies that were previously released on DVD in full frame, restoring them to their widescreen splendor. None of the choices so far has been a classic, simply because the classics are already available on widescreen discs. But for fans of movies that were released on DVD from pan-and-scan prints, this is a wonderful decision. One of the latest is this Michael J. Fox vehicle that came along some six years after he hit it big with ‘Back to the Future.’ This review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 2, 1991.

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.


            Julie Warner, Michael J. Fox, 'Doc Hollywood'

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 Sternhagen, 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 tend to undermine 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.