The Heart Specialist -- Film Review

Amateurish doctors-in-training comedy/drama too blatantly reveals its television inspirations. 

NEW YORK -- Filmed in 2006 but only now receiving a limited theatrical release no doubt thanks to the presence of rising star Zoe Saldana (Avatar), the African-American, medical-themed The Heart Specialist plays like a poorly written episode of Gray's Anatomy.

This awkward, amateurish blend of comedy and melodrama will need life support stat to prevent it from immediately disappearing from theaters.

Written and directed by Dennis Cooper, a former doctor who has previously supplied his medical expertise to teleplays for such series as Chicago Hope and St. Elsewhere, the film concerns the interactions among several figures at a Florida hospital. Chief resident Dr. Sidney Zachary (Wood Harris), known to the staff as "Dr. Z," hopes to parlay his theories about the healing effects of laughter into a stand-up comedy career and eventually a Michael Crichton-style novel. He decides to use Dr. Ray Howard (Brian White), newly arrived from Harvard, as the model for his main character

Although Ray hopes to rekindle his relationship with ex-girlfriend Valerie (Mya Harrison), it doesn't stop him from hitting on nearly every woman in sight, including Dr. Zachary's loyal girlfriend/nurse, Donna (Saldana).

He soon butts heads with the hospital's teaching doctors (Scott Paulin, David S. Lee) over their abusive behavior toward the hapless interns, including the perpetually tongue-tied Asian-American Mitchell (Kenneth Choi).

Although Dr. Z is clearly intended to be the sort of quirky and eccentric character who provides inspiration via his unorthodox style and irreverent humor, the numerous excerpts from his stand-up act don't exactly inspire hilarity. And the film's turn towards seriousness in its second half -- when a serious illness afflicts one of the main characters and Dr. Ray eventually learns to be a more caring doctor -- is far more mawkish than moving.

Although Harris and White fulfill their stock roles in capable fashion and Saldana displays the radiant charm and sexiness that soon propelled her to bigger things, The Heart Specialist (previously titled Ways of the Flesh) never rises above mediocrity. Adding to the overall television vibe is the presence of such familiar small-screen faces as Ed Asner, Jasmine Guy and Marla Gibbs in ineffective cameos.

Freestyle Releasing
Production: Elevate the Game Entertainment
Cast: Wood Harris, Brian White, Zoe Saldana, Kenneth Choi, Scott Paulin, David S. Lee, Marla Gibbs, Jasmine Guy, Mya Harrison, Method Man, Ed Asner
Director-screenwriter: Dennis Cooper
Producers: David Getachew-Smith, Kristin Overn, Dennis Cooper
Director of photography: Yasu Tanida
Editor: Jon Schwartz
Music: Tree Adams, Christopher Faizi
Production designer: Alethea Root
Costume designer: Tammi Marie Hicks
Rated R, 98 minutes