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'Coma' review: A&E adaptation is a hoot

Geena Davis plays the chief of psychiatry conducting

Geena Davis plays the chief of psychiatry conducting genetic research into Alzheimer's disease in "Coma" premiering on A&E Sept. 3, 2012. Credit: MCT

THE SHOW "Coma," A&E, Monday and Tuesday nights at 9

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Something is not right at Memorial Hospital, and it doesn't take med student Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) long to figure out what: Patients are going into comas while the poor souls are then shipped off to the mysterious Jefferson Institute. She wants to know why, and gets an assist from surgical resident Dr. Mark Bellows (Steven Pasquale) but not from the hospital's ambitious head shrink, Dr. Agnetta Lindquist (Geena Davis). Meanwhile, what's the deal with funky old-timer, Professor Hillside (Richard Dreyfuss) -- onetime friend and colleague of Susan's father? Speaking of the funk, how about creepy Mrs. Emerson (Ellen Burstyn) who takes care of the comatose at Jefferson? Says she of her stricken flock, "They're not really alive. But they're not dead, either." Based on Robin Cook's 1977 bestseller and Michael Crichton's '78 film, this is one of the last production collaborations of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott; the latter died last month.

MY SAY The appeal of a Crichton-directed adaptation of Cook's thriller in 1978 was obvious. Bursting with ideas about medical ethics on the frontier of new medicine, Crichton -- himself a doctor -- found the perfect material to match his own interests and growing rep behind the camera. But the appeal of a Scott adaptation in 2012 is not even remotely obvious. "Medical malpractice" had barely entered the language back then, much less the public consciousness. A hospital that harvested patients? Crazy . . . but, hey, maybe not so crazy! This, however, is 2012, folks, and the idea is just plain crazy, and so is the plot. The hospital screws up, and not a single lawyer is heard from? Grieving families don't visit their loved ones? Not in this miniseries, anyway. "Coma" demands of the viewer -- you -- a superhuman suspension of disbelief over four hours. If you can muster that, you're left with a largely entertaining movie, featuring some legendary actors happy to ham it up in the presence of two famous producers.

BOTTOM LINE Sure, the plot's ridiculous, but the film's mostly fun, while the pleasure of watching Burstyn play a homicidal wacko is not to be denied anyone.



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