Review: Intern Academy

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  September 10, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Intern Academy introduces us to a group of third-year medical students excited to be getting their first internship at Saint Albert's hospital, a facility lovingly referred to as Saint Al's. Al's isn't the best hospital in the health care system as its equipment is either outdated or being sold off by hospital administrator Cyrill Kipp (Dan Aykroyd) to meet the payroll each month. Still, Mike (Peter Oldring), Dale (Peter Kelly), Mira (Ingrid Kavelaars), Mitzi (Christine Chatelain), Marlon (Viv Leecock), and Christine (Jane McLean) are all excited to be starting their medical careers under the tutelage of Dr. Omar Olson (Dave Thomas), a tough no-nonsense-type guy who tells them that 50% don't make it past his course. Each of the interns has their own reason for being there. For Mike, it's because both of his parents are doctors and despite some rather poor grades they managed to get him a rotation. Dale is in it to meet beautiful women and wastes no time when he propositions Mitzi for a quicky in a hospital closet. Mira on the other hand is a brown-noser and know-it-all who wants to become the first female heart surgeon in Saint Al's history, a fact which the head of cardiology Dr. Denton Whiteside (Dave Foley) finds laughable at best. After Dale's rendezvous with Mitzi embarrasses him in a lab class, he quickly turns his attention to Nurse Sarah Calder (Carly Pope), a sweet nurse who dreams of working in Africa and getting away from the constant barrage of dying patients in intensive care. Meanwhile, Mike takes an interest in Mitzi and although she initially dodges his advances, things change for the better when something happens on a rare night off for the interns. Will Mike and his co-horts be able to pass their rotation and become full-fledged doctors or will they simply flunk out of the Academy? Find out in this new comedy from TVA Films.

Canadian movies always find themselves in a tough spot. Pigeonholed as primarily artistic and boring in nature, the rare mainstream Canadian film that comes along is often berated as being a poor knock-off of an American film or taking an American concept and making it Canadian. In recent years, no fewer than two films come to mind " Foolproof, which distributor Alliance Atlantis gave one of the widest ever Canadian releases in history only to find that no one wanted to see Ryan Reynolds pull off an extremely low-budget heist, and Going the Distance, a sort of Canadian Road Trip that came out just two or three weeks ago and is already gone from most screens. It's not that these films were terrible because I've seen worst films in both of their respective release years, it's just that they aren't good enough to generate huge buzz and with the lack of Hollywood star power they have fizzled at the box office. So, either Canadian movies are all small with limited audience power or low-rent versions of concepts already proven to be successful in other places. Canadian distributors Alliance Atlantis and TVA Films are often at a loss as to what to do with these productions. The advertising budgets are minimal (most don't even have a trailer) and exposure is limited. So when a halfway decent effort like Intern Academy comes out, it's something to take note of.

Intern Academy isn't the best comedic movie I've seen all year but it's far from the worst. Writer/director Dave Thomas, best known to Canadians as one half of Bob and Doug Mackenzie from SCTV, has assembled a good-looking group of Canadian actors who, while they might not always have the comedic timing down perfect, do more than an acceptable job in this film about the exploits of a group of medical students wanting to become doctors at any cost. There isn't really a lot of story material here, and the film does come off more as a series of comedic sketches interwoven into a 90-or-so-minute feature. A couple of the characters are developed in more detail, mainly Mike, the underachiever who only got an internship at all due to his parents' employment at the facility, and Mitzi, the girl working her way through med school with an unusual second occupation. Some characters suffer from being underwritten, including the womanizing Marlon and the overachieving Ingrid, whose tussles with a senior staff member are interesting but ultimately unneeded, adding in very little that benefits the film's climax.

In terms of medical accuracy, I'm sure Intern Academy should not be used as a way to study medicine. The film has more of a Scrubs feel to it than ER, with more emphasis being put on the characters as opposed to the medical techniques employed. One such example of this is a scene where a patient who obviously dies on the surgery table only to be brought back to life after one intern is sent to deliver the bad news. Dave Thomas has taken a writing credit on the film, though most of the film does have a very loose, improvised feel to it. Working with a number of notable Canadian comedians, including Dan Aykroyd and Dave Foley, it seems as though they were just told to stand on camera and make with the jokes. This has its moments, but for the most part for whatever reason I was laughing even when I probably shouldn't have been.

The film isn't without its problems though, and the biggest one comes in the form of juvenile bathroom humour, two scenes of which quite frankly might have been the most tasteless and vulgar in recent Canadian cinema history. Now, everyone has seen the poop scene in Austin Powers. Well imagine things taken to the next level when a doctor has to examine a patient with a bowel problem. No, I'm not making that one up, that's an actual scene in the movie. The other troubling scene is a sick take-off of a food fight with the remains of many patients being used in a classic food fight-type setting. These moments were sick and juvenile and while this isn't Gone with the Wind, there is no reason to take this film completely into the gutter with that type of material. There's a limit to even my tolerance of toilet humor and gross-out sight gags.

Acting-wise, the film can be split into two distinct categories: those with lead or supporting roles and those with what are merely one or two scene cameos. In the first category, we have a bunch of Canadian actors and actresses with little to no marquee value that audiences may remember from earlier, much smaller roles. Peter Oldring plays Mike Bonnert, the sort of lead character and goofy but loveable underachiever who screws pretty much everything up but doesn't do so intentionally. Oldring, who's currently starring south of the border on the WB's Blue Collar TV doing sketch comedy, is a broad-based physical comedian and does well with the character. The same can't be said for his cohort, Peter Kelly, who is as flat as can be as Dale Dodd, a doctor who got into the field to meet beautiful ladies. As sort of the Stiffler-esque, womanizing character, he has almost no presence whatsoever and his scenes, primarily with Carly Pope's Sarah, show his inexperience in the acting arena. Carly Pope, who has probably the biggest marquee name value in the film having starred in the short-lived but smartly-written Popular for a couple of seasons on the WB, appears in the film as Nurse Sarah Calder. Pope's nurse is probably the most straight-laced character and Pope does a good job with the material. The only real problem I had with Pope in the film is the fact that her character had the most fake-looking dyed blonde hair that I've seen in quite sometime. In the female doctor roles, I quite enjoyed Christine Chatelain as Mitzi, the oversexed girl working her way through medical school by doing a dubious profession, while I wasn't as sold with Ingrid Kavelaars take on the know-it-all, balls to the wall go-getter, Mira Towers.

Moving to the other side of the performance fence, we have cameo-like appearances from many of Canada's top TV and film stars, including Dave Foley, who steals every scene he's in as the jaded and cynical Dr. Denton Whiteside. Maury Chaykin also gets some laughs at Dr. Rodget Tony Toussant, whose class on cell identification is the source of a number of early laughs. Dan Aykroyd also gets in on the fun as a hospital administrator more concerned with selling off equipment and getting better acquainted with the female staff than curing people. The only real misfire is Matt Frewer, whose morgue attendant is disturbing and unfunny. Frewer must need the money, because this is the second cameo-type role he's appeared in as many months. I guess Frewer just needed a couple of paychecks, but at least he was funny in Going the Distance.

Now, I'm probably going to take some flack for my recommendation of Intern Academy. It was clear coming out of the theatre after the morning press screening that many of my fellow colleagues didn't much care for the film. In fact, a friend of mine who I thought would have loved the film wasn't even very big on it, telling me he preferred the aforementioned road trip knock-off, which I felt was dry, lifeless, and boring save for a few moments which contained some good but not great material. Intern Academy, on the other hand, had me laughing constantly and while I did groan a few times due to some of the sick and disturbing content, it's still a pretty funny way to spend 90 or so minutes. I guess the real test comes now, with the film seeing release on Friday, September 10th, a rather busy week for new releases at Canadian theaters. There's nothing really new about Intern Academy, and maybe that's why my critic friends didn't care for it. Based on the trailer " which I thought was average at best " I wasn't expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised. That said, Intern Academy isn't a movie aimed at critics, it's a movie aimed at moviegoers, and I for one think moviegoers who give this Canadian comedy a shot will be will be happy with its often quite funny humor and only a handful of over-the-top moments. Although I wouldn't allow any of them to operate on me, this is still a funny motion picture. I laughed a lot and for that these interns get a passing grade from this patient.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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