Picks and Pans Review: Vital Signs

updated 04/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Adrian Pasdar, Jimmy Smits

Anyone in the mood for a soapy medical melodrama would be better off finding an old episode of Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare or even Marcus Welby, M.D. This movie about third-year medical students, with its bag-o'-clichés script and telegraph-every-move direction, leaves no stone—gall or kidney—unturned in search of emotional upheaval. Still, it ends up as little more than a faint, unintentional copy of the 1982 parody Young Doctors in Love.

The cast makes a valiant try. Smits, as a supervising doctor, has a galvanizing effect on every scene he enters. Laura (Pretty Woman) San Giacomo, as a waitress putting her husband through med school, proves to be as effective in a sweetheart role as she is in trollop mode. Argentinean Norma (The Official Story) Aleandro is affecting too as a churlish cancer patient.

As the tension-racked students, Pasdar (Cookie), Jack (Casualties of War) Gwaltney, Diane (Lonesome Dove) Lane, Tim (Desperately Seeking Susan) Ransom and newcomer Jane Adams are likable.

Everybody has to deal, however, with the same problem: the script by Jeb Stuart and Larry Ketron. Ketron is an unknown quantity, but Stuart's credits, including Die Hard and Lock Up, do not suggest an affinity for intimate drama. Characters in this movie don't talk to each other, they give arch speeches: about being the best, about winning at all costs, about every major medical issue this side of the importance of decaffeinated coffee.

Meanwhile, director Marisa (Permanent Record) Silver shows a fondness for reaction close-ups, self-conscious staging and irrelevant overhead shots that suggest a Busby Berkeley medical musical.

By the time the romantic subplots are resolved and the predictable medical crises have been dealt with, this experience seems too much like a long hospital stay. Does Blue Cross cover bad movies? (R)

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