Wearing a pony tail and mustering up all his big-screen manly swagger (which is considerable), Connery plays a brilliant researcher who has discovered a cure for cancer—but he can't seem to duplicate his initial success.
It all hangs on a rare variety of flora that grows high in the trees, which are, of course, being cut down to pave the way for roads.
Enter Lorraine Bracco, a fellow scientist assigned to evaluate Connery's work for the pharmaceutical company that is funding him. They clash at first, but eventually come to terms, and she tries to help him come up with that winning combination once more, before they run out of rain forest.
John McTiernan's enviro-conscious suspense thriller is a departure from the director's normal blood-and-guts fare. Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco entertain with their odd-couple exchanges amid a lively rain forest backdrop similar to McTiernan's earlier work in Predator. There is an interesting strain of environmental backlash, as slash-and-burn big business and the bulldozers of progress cost the world a cure for "the plague of the 20th century." Also, Connery's character has an almost Kurtz-like quality, a renegade in a lonely jungle far away from the tides of civilization, but the film simply is too intellectually flat to push the Heart of Darkness comparison any further. The congruent story lines and slow, methodical pace of the film are the strong points here; overall, the film's pseudo-mysticism does not detract from its quiet charm. --Mike DiBella, All Movie Guide
Medicine Man (1992)
Medicine Man is framed as an African Queen/Romancing the Stone-style screwball romance, with Connery as the selfish manly man who needs to be softened and Bracco as the too-civilized-for-her-own-good urban dweller who learns to let her hair down. Despite her high-decibel flailing about, Bracco has an earthy sexual vibrance, and on this level she and Connery connect. Connery, who looks good in his salt-and-pepper ponytail, doesn't do much he hasn't done before, but his fierce, playful virility is as winning as ever. It's a nice touch, too, to have the romance remain platonic.
The screenplay, by Tom Schulman ("Dead Poets Society," "What About Bob?") and Sally Robinson, must have seemed a real find. After all, it combines concern for the rain forest, the aformentioned cancer cure and the kind of mock-contentious repartee that reminds some people of Tracy and Hepburn, if their memories are sufficiently short. But in this case the antagonism is as annoying as it is false, with the singsong rhythms of the most synthetic Moviespeak. "I'm not a girl!" shouts Dr. Crane when obstreperous, sexist Dr. Campbell (a trying character even for an actor as mistake-proof as Mr. Connery) calls her one. "The hell you're not!" he answers. "I'm your research assistant!" she yells back. "The hell you are!" says he.
I liked Medicine Man better than most of the reviewers did. But yes, it's far from perfect. Let's note some of the flaws first:
The wisecracking repartee veers from clever to forced. If someone else were delivering Crane's lines, I think the dialogue would sound pretty good. As it is, it's kind of a wash.
Other reviewers seemed to enjoy the antics, but I think they went on too long. With Crane shrieking much of the time, they didn't advance the characterization.
And cancer is a group of related diseases, I believe, not a single disease. It's impossible to take the idea of a drug that cures every kind of cancer, in just a few hours, seriously. You know such a drug doesn't exist, so the question is how this "miracle" will fail to become a reality.
On the bright side...
There's a lot to like about Medicine Man. Much of it has to do with its portrayal of the Natives and the white man living with them. For instance:
What he hasn't done is equally significant. He hasn't contaminated the Native culture--introduced outside ideas or innovations--in any discernible way. He hasn't taken a Native woman or set himself up as a tribal leader. Even though he replaced the tribe's medicine man by curing someone with Alka Seltzer, he doesn't claim his medicine is superior to theirs.
All in all, I'd say Medicine Man is not as good as The Emerald Forest, about as good as End of the Spear or Romancing the Stone, and better than the overrated The African Queen. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.