Most people don’t like to go into hospitals, and they may feel the same way about a hospital movie. But don’t let that keep you from seeing Critical Care (LIVE), a terrifically smart and entertaining send-up of what actually goes on in an intensive care unit. James Spader plays a cynical resident who views being a doctor as an easy way to pick up women. Early on, he ”comforts” a grieving sexpot, played with blowsy bravura by Kyra Sedgwick. She has come to visit her father, a rotting vegetable being kept in a state of permanent unconscious limbo by the miracle of modern technology. Sedgwick and her religious-fanatic sister turn out to be warring over the old man’s fortune.
For all the ruthlessness on display, Critical Care isn’t an over-the-top satire, like Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital. It plays its issues close to the bone. As Spader is blackmailed by Sedgwick, we watch him squirm to survive, and the result is the actor’s slyest performance since sex, lies, and videotape. The film also features a rambunctious vaudeville turn by Albert Brooks as a senile managing physician who’s wilier than he looks. Blithely directed by Sidney Lumet, Critical Care takes off on the ways that law, profit, technology, and — yes — compassion have combined to create new ethical nightmares in medicine. It’s the sort of clever mainstream comedy that Hollywood used to do more of, and that now arrives as an unexpected pleasure. A-