|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 07 October 1998|
"Doc Hollywood" is as old-fashioned and all-American as British director Michael Caton-Jones can make it, but his homage isn't to real-life small-town America, rather to movies about small-town Americana. He claimed Frank Capra as his role model, but Capra hardly ever set his movies in small towns. This script by Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman and Daniel Pyne is a lot more like some errant Leo McCarey film.
It's highly predictable but satisfying; everything happens that we expect to happen -- but it's also just what we want to happen, from Ben's arrogance and greed being drained away, to his romance with Lou, to his learning to love Grady, to his realization that Dr. Halberstrom (George Hamilton, in a very funny cameo) and his clinic aren't really what he wants. For some, this predictability and familiarity will produce boredom; for others, it will deliver the same kind of satisfaction that a well-written episode of a favorite TV series does.
The movie is a fantasy, of course; it mixes old-fashioned small town Americana, with nice, funny old granny ladies bringing Ben a quilt, and the folksy wisdom of Dr. Hogue, with more up-to-date stuff -- the local garage mechanic uses his personal computer to tap into a nationwide organization of foreign car-parts suppliers (surprising for a 1991 movie). But the emphasis is on the kind of idealized small town life that never really existed outside the fantasies of Hollywood moguls who themselves probably never set foot in such a town.
Michael J. Fox fits in perfectly; his open, artificial acting is entirely appropriate for this kind of movie. We know he's acting, but since Fox himself is friendly and ingratiating, so is Ben Stone. This was the first feature film for Julie Warner, but she didn't get the roles later that would have let her build on her promise. David Ogden Stiers is almost the opposite of his frosty, aristocratic Major Charles Emerson Winchester of TV's "M*A*S*H." Here he's a shrewd, folksy small-town politician, bustling, friendly and always on the move. He's also quite hilarious, and the movie could have stood a lot more of him. Woody Harrelson, before the glory days, is likable but a bit broad as Lou's local beau, a demon insurance salesman, and Bridget Fonda gets a few good scenes as the mayor's randy daughter.
You're not going to learn anything much new from "Doc Hollywood," but that's not what it's for. It's a pleasant summer diversion, relaxed, amiable and as comfortable and familiar -- and original -- as a vanilla malt. It's pleasant, but the calories are pretty empty.
The DVD is, irritatingly, pan-and-scanned rather than letterboxed, and as is the custom for these middle-level releases, has no extras whatsoever.