"Crazy as Hell" is as ambitious as it is ponderous, a psychological drama in which a controversial psychiatrist takes up temporary residence in a state mental institution as part of a documentary project, only to start questioning his own sanity. It marks a vigorous directorial debut by Eriq La Salle, who, as is often the case with actors-turned-directors, guides his large cast with considerable skill and flair.
The film is based on Jeremy Leven's 700-page novel "Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.," and while Leven, with the help of Erik Jendresen, whittled the book down to a less-than-two-hour movie, it is still too talky to be as effective on the screen as it might have been.
Michael Beach stars as the polished Dr. Ty Adams, who has won both supporters and detractors for his non-medicinal approach to therapy. An eager-beaver documentarian named Parker (John C. McGinley) has persuaded the doctor to agree to be on camera constantly for two weeks at a vast psychiatric hospital to reveal the doctor's and patients' effect on each other. The director of the institution, Dr. Sam Delazo (Ronny Cox), makes it plain he's no admirer of Adams and his approach, but he agrees to go along with Parker's idea.
Dr. Adams, who comes on as a brash, confident man, arrives with a sizable Achilles' heel: He is haunted by the deaths of his wife and small daughter.
The notion that Adams would attempt to take some patients off their medications is daunting, but he is unsettled by the arrival of an intelligent, physically imposing man (La Salle) who declares that he is no less than Satan himself and that he's seeking enlightenment.
He is smooth, insinuating and perceptive, raising the tantalizing possibility that he really is the devil. Situations develop and tension builds, engulfing Adams, in whom pride surely looks to go before a fall.
"Crazy as Hell" starts encouragingly and finishes strongly with a twist, but the middle is weighed down by too much discourse when it should be visually evoking its ideas and developing its mood of unease.
Sinbad heads a distinctive supporting cast as an alert and wise orderly who is eager to counsel Adams.
Despite its flaws, "Crazy as Hell" marks an encouraging new direction for La Salle, a three-time Emmy nominee for his portrayal of "ER's" Dr. Peter Benton.
MPAA rating: R, for some strong sexual content, violent images and language. Times guidelines: intense and violent.
'Crazy as Hell'
Michael Beach...Dr. Ty Adams
Eriq La Salle...The Man
Ronny Cox...Dr. Delazo
John C. McGinley...Parker
An Artistic License Films release. Director Eriq La Salle. Producers Butch Robinson, DJ Caruso, Ken Aguado, Eriq La Salle. Screenplay Jeremy Leven and Erik Jendresen; from a story by Leven based on his novel "Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S." Cinematographer George Mooradian. Editor Tony Takaki. Music Billy Childs. Costumes Donna Berwick. Production designer Charles Lagola. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
Exclusively at the Magic Johnson Theatres, 4040 Marlton Ave., Crenshaw Plaza, Baldwin Hills, (323) 290-5900; and the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
'Crazy as Hell'
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