2020 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: A hospital can be a dark place. Lives are lost, suffering is a daily occurrence, and only a fraction of those in the building are there for a “good” reason. So there is a lot of potential in a dark comedy taking place in a hospital. “Scrubs” was able to mine the usual tropes of a hospital drama for comedy on television, as well as finding some genuinely emotional moments. The Tribeca movie “12 Hour Shift” wants to take a dark approach to the crime comedy, though it commits the ultimate cardinal sin of never quite being funny.
“12 Hour Shift” is a comedy, but there aren’t any jokes. The premise sets up humorous moments without following through. One gets the sense that the pull of making something like “Children’s Hospital” is butting up against the allure of “Blood Simple.” The result? Neither the comedy nor the crime elements fully land. The strong score and interesting performances paper over some of these issues, but not enough to warrant a recommendation.
We meet Mandy (Angela Bettis) at the start of another long shift at the Arkansas hospital where she works as a nurse. It’s 1998 and Y2K anxieties are beginning to pop up. Mandy has other things on her mind. She’s an addict who swipes medicine, crushing up and snorting pills whenever possible. She’s also engaged in a black market organ trading scheme with a co-worker. They deliver kidneys and the like to Nicholas (Mick Foley). Business is good enough that Mandy has brought on her equally dumb and dangerous cousin Regina (Chloe Farnworth) as a delivery girl. Today, however, her shift is about to descend into chaos. First, a kidney vanishes in Regina’s car. Then, Mandy begins to be investigated for some misdeeds at the hospital. Upping the ante, cop killer Jefferson (David Arquette) has been brought in as a patient. When Nicholas demands Regina replace the missing organ, she sneaks into the hospital and tries to acquire one.
As things devolve for everyone, the body count begins to rise. With Officer Myers (Kit Williamson) trying to figure out just what is going on, Mandy tries to cover her tracks while keeping Regina from causing any more trouble. Then, Jefferson escapes his shackles, raising the stakes for all involved. If you’re looking for the humor in this premise, well, the creatives were doing the same.
To be fair, the entire cast is committed to this offbeat premise. Some, like Angela Bettis, have ample material to play with. Others, like Mick Foley, are wasted and leave us wishing for a heartier experience. Chloe Farnworth provides some of the major laughs, but also quickly becomes grating. Bettis fares the best and lends some emotional stakes the caper, with her world-weary look often coming across as hauntingly real. But she can only do so much.
Writer/director Brea Grant has a distinct vision for her film. It’s simply not one that’s especially appealing. Cinematographer and composer Matt Glass is at her side, contributing one strong element of the movie, as well as a problematic one. Glass’ score is top-notch, elevating some of the stakes Grant’s screenplay sets up. On the other hand, the look of the flick is downright cheap, hurting the visual palate that Grant sets up from the director’s chair. Glass the musician is far more successful than Glass the DP.
“12 Hour Shift” is stuck between genres. Had it leaned more in the direction of bizarre comedy, it could have had an Adult Swim vibe to it. Had it gone more in the crime direction and sprinkled in some laughs to defuse the tension, it could have been something in the vein of the Coen Brothers. Instead, the movie tries to be a bit of everything, leaving everyone just a bit disappointed. As far as Tribeca titles go, it’s thoroughly middle of the road.