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Critical Care Reviews

A ghastly, modern-day variation on THE HOSPITAL that attempts to wring black comedy from the horrifying absurdities of modern medicine. Based on a highly acclaimed novel and directed by the estimable Sidney Lumet, who's never shied away from a big topic and rarely demonstrated much in the way of a sense of humor. (It's probably safe to credit the bulk of NETWORK's mordant wit to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky.) Callow but vaguely well-intentioned second-year resident Dr. Werner Ernst (James Spader) foolishly gets himself caught up in the battle between half-sisters Felicia (Kyra Sedgwick) and Constance (Margo Martindale) Potter over the fate of their comatose father: One wants to pull the plug, the other holds out devout hope for his complete recovery. The catch is that Mr. Potter is worth $10 million and that the dispensation of his estate depends on exactly when he dies. The story of Ernst's moral awakening is played out against the intersecting dramas of sharp-tongued but deeply humanitarian nurse (Helen Mirren), addled senior staffer Dr. Butz (Albert Brooks) and the high-tech surgeon (Philip Bosco) whose only complaint about medicine is that it involves dealing with those pesky sick people and their annoying feelings, plus a supporting cast of orderlies, irrational family members, patients and lawyers. It's all ever so well-intentioned, dramatically ham-fisted and not the least bit funny: This is a movie in which the cartoon image of the battle between one's better and worse natures -- a little devil and a little angel squabbling on opposite shoulders -- is made literal in the forms of a saintly nun (Anne Bancroft) and a clawed tempter (Wallace Shawn) who get to speak their pieces in painfully heavy-handed fantasy sequences.