MICHAEL J. FOX
DAVID OGDEN STIERS
A doctor forced to punch a time clock like a factory worker? The concept thrills me, especially since it's arrogant surgeon BEN STONE (FOX), who can't wait to leave gunshot wound patients behind at a Washington, D.C. emergency room. He's headed for the Halberstrom clinic in Beverly Hills--cosmetic surgery. Unlike 'real medicine', "it's clean, you make tons of money, and nobody dies." "I heard Halberstrom might not hire anyone this year," another resident cautions him. "Well I'm not anyone."
Driving his porsche through Grady, South Carolina, the "squash capital of the south", he swerves to avoid cows in the road, wrecks his car, and destroys a picket fence hand-built by the town judge. For mouthing off he's sentenced to 32 hours of community service at the local hospital, which is an old home no larger than the ones that are turned into restaurants. MAYOR "NICK" NICHOLSON (STIERS, better known as Charles on "M.A.S.H."), is determined to see Ben stay in Grady because the hospital/Doctor's office has only one doctor--the crotchety well-past retirement age Dr. Hogue (BARNARD HUGHES). Ben manages to alienate him early on by hastily prepping a child for unnecessary surgery. "Better check 'Hollywood' for knives in case I sneeze." Maybe he's not as smart as he thought he was? Nurse Packer isn't impressed with Doc Hollywood either...she makes him punch a time card and use the pay phone! "Folks come runnin' when they hear there's a doctor on duty...any old doctor." And run to him they do. An illiterate couple even brings their mail so he can read it to them.
Meanwhile Melvin the garage mechanic insists on fixing the porsche. "I always wanted an excuse to buy a set of metric tools." Melvin won't take credit cards or checks, but he will take a pig that a patient gave Ben in payment for treating him.
This 1991 romantic comedy could be titled "Alex Keaton goes to Mayberry." Ben Stone's shallowness is similar to the GOP yuppie Fox portrayed on tv's "Family Ties." And the town immediately brings to mind the old Andy Griffith show, particularly a scene in the diner where the town council has to vote on offering BEN a better salary: $35,000 instead of $26,000! The only thing that could make him stay in what he calls "Hee-Haw Hell" is the beautiful Viola-Lou(JULIE WARNER), a single mother who works as the ambulance driver with hopes of going to law school and practicing in Grady when she finishes. She has no dreams of leaving...she's lived in New York City and hated it. So she's wise to Ben's conniving. "I can see you coming a mile away, Dr. Stone. I suspect your version of romance is whatever will separate me from my panties." Ben's rival for her affections is HANK GORDON (HARRELSON), the dim-witted insurance salesman who wants to "underwrite" Ben and doesn't want to see Lou become Ben's "one-night stand". He's prepared to marry her and "build equity."
We discover that Ben is so frantic to get to the big city because he himself is from a town the size of Grady where he watched his parents live and die without ever seeing the world or making anything out of themselves. "When I left home," he tells Lou, "I swore I'd never look back." And the famous Dr. Halberstrom is from the same town. Ironically, however, their hailing from the same hometown is NOT AT ALL the reason that Halberstrom gives BEN a job.
The director does a good job of contrasting the cold, curt atmosphere of the Halberstrom clinic with the hominess of Grady Hospital. The name of the actor who plays DR. HALBERSTROM is not listed in the opening credits because it's supposed to be a surprise, and when you see who it is you'll realize the perfect casting. Watch closely and you'll notice that he has a picture of himself on the wall of every room in the clinic.
There are some leaps of logic in the movie. For instance Melvin won't take checks or credit cards yet uses a computer to communicate with parts dealers all over the U.S. But there are so many wonderful character actors in this movie that you'll fall in love with Grady's citizens and want Ben to stay. "We're no different from Los Angeles...their bigger is all." HARRELSON is perfect as the insurance jargon spouting Hank in a town "...where everybody knows your name" and your business, who ends up taking his own advice.
I am from a small town so I can sympathize with Ben having to deal with people who don't know it's insulting to offer $26,000 a year to someone who's gone through medical school. But it's a pleasure to NOT have four-lane highways with each lane moving slower than the other. Now if only someone would force corporate CEO's to punch a time clock....
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