December 21, 2005
Made in 1990, Vital Signs still carries residual of the ‘80s with its cheesy soundtrack. The film follows the trials and tribulations of several third year medical students as they compete for limited internships and to do so they have to earn enough honour grades. They have little time to get acclimatized before being dropped right into it, learning and proving themselves on the spot. To make it, these people have to eat, sleep and breathe medicine.
Central to the movie is the budding romance between Michael (Pasdar) and Gina (Lane)—two good-looking, ambitious students. Early on, he sets his sights on Gina despite her relationship with a surgical intern (Whitford essaying another arrogant jerk role). The film quickly ushers in the usual cliches: the petty rivalries between the students; the aspiring student who lives in the shadow of his rich and successful surgeon father (Devane); the cocky surgeon; and the woman who, as a child, dreamed of being a doctor.
Vital Signs is an ensemble piece a la St. Elsewhere and, later, E.R. but without the former’s quality writing and the latter’s adrenaline-fueled pacing. In fact, Vital Signs feels like a feature-length TV show in the way it is paced and structured. The cast is fine if not somewhat bland, with the likes Adrian Pasdar (the nondescript protagonist in Near Dark) and Diane Lane (window dressing in The Cotton Club) who are given very little to work with. Pasdar is appealing enough with his hunky, all-American looks. He plays the kind of brash, young upstart that Tom Cruise was known for (Top Gun, Color of Money, etc.). Lane is as gorgeous-looking as ever and I’m sure many of her fans would certainly like to have her as their doctor…that is until she sends a little boy into cardiac arrest and dies (albeit accidentally). The chemistry between them is pretty good. However, their characters, as written, never transcend their stereotypes or the conventional situations that they find themselves in.
Vital Signs is a little too earnest but does have its heart in the right place, it just doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from countless other medical comedy/dramas on the big and small screen.