Director – John McTiernan, Screenplay – Sally Robinson & Tom Schulman, Story – Schulman, Producers – Donna Dubrow & Andrew G. Vajna, Photography – Donald McAlpine, Music – Jerry Goldsmith, Special Effects – Laurencio Cordero ‘Chony’ & John Thomas, Makeup – James R. Kail, Production Design – John Krenz Reinhart Jr. Production Company – Cinergi/Hollywood Pictures
Sean Connery (Dr Robert Campbell), Lorraine Bracco (Dr Rae Crane), Jose Wilker (Dr Miguel Ornega), Rodolfo De Alexandre (Tanaki)
Biochemist Dr Rae Crane is asked to transport a gas chromatograph to the self-willed researcher Dr Robert Campbell who has gone bush in the midst of the Amazonian rainforest. Once there, Campbell proves rude and abrupt and tells her to go back. She discovers that he has developed a formula that holds a cure for cancer but is unable to replicate the serum used in the process that he obtained from a local medicine man. As they work together to try and replicate the serum, both the village and the source of the flowers used in the serum are endangered by construction workers come to demolish this part of the rainforest.
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, one was happy to cite John McTiernan is one of the great action directors in the world. He had previously made a name with the likes of Predator (1987), Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990), but then had a big flop with this environmentalist drama.
It is not hard to see why Medicine Man was a flop – it is hard to imagine what, other than Sean Connery, anyone imagined the film had going for it. It takes an odd pure science plot – indeed, Medicine Man is one of the few science-fiction films in which we see actual scientific method at work. Unfortunately, this hardly makes for the stuff of gripping drama. Maybe the scriptwriters hoped that the sparring relationship between Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco would fill the gap. They are both presented as stubborn and it seems obvious from the outset, due to the fact that they are the only two characters in the film, that there is going to be an attraction of sorts. However, there isn’t – and instead we get a character comedy that is agonizingly drawn out. Bracco gives an annoying performance – she comes across as nasally whiny. Moreover, she is characterised in some often sexist ways – she screams at snakes, and when we are introduced to her we see her filing her nails, which in a film like this is a certain sign that she is going to get her hands dirty in a big way. Neither the characters nor the relationship come off and as a result there is little for the film to work with – just lame pieces with Sean Connery having to rescue an intoxicated Bracco out of a tree on a rope and a few token messages about the disappearing rainforest and the plight of the indigenous peoples.
John McTiernan’s other genre films are:– the urban ghost story Nomads (1986), Predator (1987), the Tom Clancy hi-tech submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990), the hilarious and much maligned meta-fictional action movie parody Last Action Hero (1993), the Michael Crichton historical adaptation The 13th Warrior (1999) about Vikings vs Neanderthals, and the remake of Rollerball (2002).