In a given year as many as 800,000 hospital workers get accidentally pricked by medical syringes. Of that group 1,000 of them contract a deadly disease like AIDS or Hepatitis. It's a terrifying statistic that would be a great basis for the film, but in tackling it with Puncture directors Adam and Mark Kassen try to do too much and end up diluting everything as a result.
Based on a true story, the film stars Chris Evans as Mike Weiss, a Houston-based lawyer who, along with his partner, Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen), try to keep their small law firm alive chasing ambulances and taking every case they can get. One day, they ask to meet with a nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who was stuck by a syringe while at work and contracted AIDS. She informs the lawyers that the incident wouldn’t have happened if her hospital made use of safety needles, a type of needle that has a retractable tip and can’t be used more than once. Teaming up with the inventor of the safety needle, a man named Jeffrey Dancourt (Marshall Bell), Weiss and Danziger work to formulate a case that would force hospitals to use the safest equipment available. But what Danziger doesn’t know is that Weiss is a highly-functioning drug addict who makes regular use of heroin, pain pills, cocaine, and everything else he can get his hands on.
Puncture’s greatest problem is that it isn’t sure what type of movie it wants to be. The film is perpetually stuck between being a courtroom drama and a character piece. Both aspects are compelling in their own right – the statistics regarding accidental needle punctures are astounding and Weiss is a complex and interesting individual – but the result is a structural mess. Because of the focus on Weiss, the story picks up way too early in the case and it doesn’t deliver on a satisfying conclusion. This would be fine if the movie were strictly about the character, but the case is so important to the plot and is interesting enough that the audience wants to see results. The mixed focus keeps the audience from latching on to either story
The film’s most exceptional aspect, however, is the performance by Chris Evans. While his muscular physique is odd for a character that spends every waking minute either high or in need of a hit, Evans never overacts, but does subtlety communicate the character’s addictions in his physicality, constantly sniffling and covering his track marks. The scenes in which he is going through withdrawal are intense and powerful, and Weiss’ passion for the case that nobody wants him to take is palpable. It would be easy to hate a protagonist who is so self-destructive and unreliable to his friends, but you always feel yourself rooting for Weiss, and that comes largely from Evans’ performance.
As strong as Evans is, though, the writing leaves the rest of the supporting cast in the lurch. As a nurse directly affected by the hospitals’ negligence, one would think that Vinessa Shaw’s character would be a central figure, a face for the issue, but she has less than 10 minutes of screen time. An air of mystery is built up around Michael Biehn's character, who lurks in the shadows and appears to be stalking Weiss, but when he’s finally put front and center he represents little more than a deus ex machina. Finally, Brett Cullen, who has a more substantial part in the film as the attorney for the opposition, is minimalized and made one-dimensional, given little more to do than act sleazy and make the protagonists look better. The Kassen brothers have essentially crafted an ensemble cast for a one-man show, and the surplus is noticeable.
If Adam and Mark Kassen wanted to make a film about Mike Weiss, they should have set it up against a smaller backdrop. If they wanted people know about corruption in the American healthcare system, they should have diminished the personal side and shifted the story’s timeline. Because they try to do both at the same time Puncture ends up as a mediocre film with one outstanding performance.