Adam and Mark Kassen’s Puncture takes two inherently dramatic concepts and can’t find the drama in either. The story takes the standard underdog-lawyer-vs-evil-corporation yarn and puts a drug addict character in the lead. But these elements are rendered inert without sharp writing, smart direction, tight pacing, and captivating performances. The Kassens never find a way to find what’s cinematic and compelling about their promising narrative.
Based on a true story set in 1998, Puncture follows Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), a high-functioning closet drug addict who takes on a case to get safety needles into hospitals after he meets a former nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted HIV from an accidental needle stick. The “Safety Point” needle was invented by her friend Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell) but hospitals won’t take the needle, which prevents the dangerous sticks and can’t be reused, because the hospitals are in a payola scheme with the major medical manufactures. Weiss believes he and his partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) have found their big case that will take them away from crappy personal injury law, but Paul has serious doubts as the firm’s money begins to dry up and Mike’s drug addiction deepens.
Imagine a 3rd-rate adaptation of The Rainmaker and make Matt Damon’s character a drug addict and you have the outline of Puncture. It’s fitting that the story takes place in 1998 since the plot feels like a rip-off of a John Grisham novel, and John Grisham novels aren’t great literature to begin with. However, they are entertaining and feature fast-paced plotlines that will tide you over on your cross-country flight.
Puncture, on the other hand, never gets going because Mike has no personality aside from doing lots of drugs and being pretty good at law. He’s not running from anything, he’s not hiding from anything, and most surprising, the drugs don’t seem to be ruining his life too much. Mike is doing coke by day, heroin by night, and aside from the occasional nosebleed and tardiness, he’s doing just fine. If the real Mike Weiss hadn’t died from a drug overdose, you could remove that entire aspect from the character and the story would still work. The Kassens don’t know how to draw us into Mike’s addiction, they don’t show us its ramifications, and it’s the character’s defining attribute but it provides no insight into the character. The role has no emotional arc to offer Evans so his performance is contained to growing a beard, getting covered in tattoos, and sweating a lot.
Unfortunately, the drug addict angle is the only thing that differentiates Puncture from The Rainmaker, A Civil Action, the TV series The Practice, or any other legal drama where we see the smart, good-hearted lawyer square off against the major corporation that is clearly doing wrong and has the money and legal team to keep doing wrong. It’s a fair subject and it speaks to our anger and frustration with a legal system that says we’re all equal in its eyes but clearly favors the wealthy and shuts out the poor. However, it’s all been done and the Kassens needed a fresh angle to make their story work. They don’t have one.
There’s no heartbeat to Puncture. The direction is limp and drains the life from almost every scene when there was never much life to begin with. The script is as lazy as the direction with characters spouting platitudes like “Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places.” I suppose that’s a more poetic way of saying “Even drug addicts can care about other people.” There’s also laughably terrible convenient moments like when Paul is about to shut down the case before the receptionist comes in and says “Mike! The senator is on the line!” or when a shadowy figure played by Michael Biehn comes in at the last minute to reveal information he had no reason to sit on in the first place.
At its best, Puncture could have been a solid if not groundbreaking legal drama with a strong lead performance at its core. But the final film feels like Mark and Adam Kassen seized on the elements of the story without first figuring out how to craft them into a compelling drama. I would like to give Puncture credit for not falling to mawkish clichés, but I can’t give it credit for much of anything.