Forgettable and hokey 'John Q'

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Denzel Washington played a bad guy in "Training Day" and won an Academy Award nomination. Now he's returned to heroic mode in "John Q," but moviegoers aren't likely to talk about this picture in next year's Oscar race.

They aren't likely to talk about it next week, for that matter. It's as forgettable as they come - which is too bad, since it brings up important political questions.

The title character is a typical hard-working guy whose little boy needs life-saving surgery not covered by his insurance. After failing to raise $250,000 from friends and neighbors, and getting no sympathy from the hospital's financial office, he picks up a gun and becomes Hollywood's latest vigilante dad.

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The early scenes persuasively etch John's fatherly love and desperate need. The story starts to go wrong when he pulls his gun on a cardiac surgeon - typical guys don't do things like that - and it goes very wrong when Capra-esque crowds gather outside the emergency room to cheer him on. The trite secondary characters (brassy bimbo, egotistical TV reporter) don't help.

It's grimly fascinating to watch fine actors wrestle with the increasingly awful screenplay. It's just plain grim to think that such hokey stuff was directed by Nick Cassavetes, whose father, John, waged a lifelong campaign for emotional realism in film.

Watch the story's first 30 minutes and think hard about the social issues they raise. Then head for home before the movie makes you feel like one of John's restless hostages.

• Rated PG-13; contains violence.

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