A scene from VITAL SIGNS, directed by Marisa Silver for 20th Century Fox.

Vital Signs (1990, Marisa Silver)

I’d forgotten grown men used to wear cut-off, midriff-revealing shirts. Adrian Pasdar does in the final scene of Vital Signs. It’s horrifying.

Pasdar also bulks up throughout the picture, maybe for his shirtless scenes in the late second act, or for that closing shot.

And even though Vital Signs is tripe, another failed studio attempt to launch a new Brat Pack, Pasdar’s a decent leading man. He’s not always good, but he’s probably only got three bad scenes–a miracle, given the script and his co-stars. He runs the movie well. So well, in fact, he even out night-time soaps special guest star (sorry, it’s a “with” credit, I forgot) William Devane. Actually, Devane’s brief appearance is a disappointment, as he gives it with less forcefulness than he would an Altoids commercial.

The supporting cast has one big surprise (well, two, if discovering Jane Adams had a Happiness career counts)–Jimmy Smits isn’t terrible. He even exhibits some potential.

Adams is good but the movie ignores her romance with her (formerly) platonic roommate Tim Ransom to the point it almost forgets them. Ransom’s the goofy late 1980s guys who wears hats (Corey Feldman was busy, I imagine) but he’s not bad. Laura San Giacomo and Jack Gwaltney are both awful. Even though San Giacomo smiles a lot and Gwaltney doesn’t at all, neither exhibit any emotion. Diane Lane–as Pasdar’s love interest–is unintentionally hilarious. She doesn’t seem intelligent enough to get a pizza order right, much less be a doctor. In a pivotal role, Norma Aleandro fails (and it hurts the movie a little).

Bradley Whitford’s kind of funny in a small role. Vital Signs is during his jerk phase.

What’s strange about the movie is the direction. Marisa Silver is far from radical, but she does a really sturdy job with it. And given the terrible Miles Goodman score (lots of guitar), it’s an accomplishment. She’s better than the script, which is laughable.

Watching Vital Signs, the biggest surprise is how long it took Pasdar to find a successful hour-long drama job. If anything, it shows how natural he’d be at one.

Maybe everyone remembered the midriff-revealing, baby blue sweatshirt.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marisa Silver; screenplay by Larry Ketron and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Ketron; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Robert Brown and Danford B. Greene; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Laurie Perlman and Cathleen Summers; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adrian Pasdar (Michael Chatham), Diane Lane (Gina Wyler), Jack Gwaltney (Kenny Rose), Laura San Giacomo (Lauren Rose), Jane Adams (Suzanne Maloney), Tim Ransom (Bobby Hayes), Bradley Whitford (Dr. Donald Ballentine), Lisa Jane Persky (Bobby), William Devane (Dr. Chatham), Norma Aleandro (Henrietta Walker) and Jimmy Smits (Dr. David Redding).


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