An updated M*A*S*H wannabe about VA hospital doctors coping with lousy work environments, this movie is a moderately entertaining, pointed comedy-drama that starts off better than it finishes. While Article 99 shares the raffish, whatever-it-takes attitude of Robert Altman's 1970 film (and the subsequent TV series), it fizzles when it tries for a big, bring-out-the-guns-and-heavy-ammo climax.
Article 99 follows a group of rogue physicians—"Either you screw the regulations or the regulations screw you," says one—practicing in a hopelessly bureaucratic Veterans Administration hospital. The enemy? Article 99, a real VA rule used to deny treatment to veterans when "the diagnosed condition cannot be specifically related to military service," and the hospital's by-the-book boss (John Mahoney), an empty suit more excited by saving pennies than saving lives.
Ably directed by Howard (Some Kind of Wonderful) Deutch, 99 features an appealing turn by Liotta (GoodFellas) as a wisenheimer surgeon who is more caring than Marcus Wellby and far sexier. Kathy (Clean and Sober) Baker is effective as the psychiatrist who serves as his romantic foil. Also in white coats: Sutherland mainly stands around looking puffy, and Lea (Back to the Future) Thompson mostly jabs alarmingly long hypodermics into patients. The usually admirable Mahoney is limited by the script to being a one-dimensional slimeball. In this case, 99 is a negative number. (R)