Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Crazy As Hell

In many ways the dark underside of Jeremy Leven's directorial debut Don Juan DeMarco, Crazy As Hell–which Leven co-adapted from his novel Satan: His Psychotherapy And Cure By The Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.–similarly focuses on the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient who professes to be a legendary figure. But while the broad outlines of both films are the same, their tone couldn't be more different. DeMarco was defined by swooping, outsized romanticism worthy of its titular seducer. The genre-bending Crazy As Hell combines elements of science fiction, horror, dark comedy, and psychological drama, but doesn't have a romantic bone in its body. The directorial debut of ER star Eriq La Salle, the film stars Michael Beach as a controversial psychiatrist famous for his reluctance to give patients psychoactive drugs, a conviction that may have contributed to the suicide of his schizophrenic daughter and his wife's subsequent death. Chosen to participate in a voyeuristic documentary about a month in the life of a psychiatric hospital, Beach immediately comes into conflict with new boss Ronny Cox, who disapproves of Beach's arrogance and unconventional tactics. In a typically over-the-top bit of symbolism, Cox gives Beach a chess set identical to his own as a welcoming present. Naturally, Beach does battle Cox for control of the hospital, but their power struggle quickly becomes a triangle when Beach begins treating La Salle, a charismatic, seemingly rational patient convinced that he's the Prince Of Darkness. Resplendent in flamboyant, gender-bending outfits that highlight his tall, lean frame, La Salle gives a suitably larger-than-life performance that bristles with sly humor and silky confidence. La Salle's devilish charm dominates the film, partly because of his performance, but also because he's the only non-hackneyed character around. Beach has some nice scenes with Cox, but his character is bogged down with several films' worth of baggage, including a dead wife and child he talks to, a checkered history, and a God complex that's referenced no fewer than three times. Crazy As Hell would make for a pretty good Twilight Zone episode, but stretched to feature length, it tends to feel stilted and heavy-handed. The film gives the devil (and the actor playing him) his due, but shortchanges everyone else.


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