I really don’t know why, but every time I pick up a movie that has a 2011 home video release and then notice the film’s actual copyright date is from five years prior, I am reminded of that mid-to-late-’90s craze when American audiences finally started to recognize Jackie Chan as an actual living Asian entity. It was during that time that a distributor with ties to a certain famous cartoon mouse began to release any and all Chan flicks they could get their hands on; re-dubbing, re-scoring, and re-editing the works until they resembled something that only their studio execs could be proud of.
Sure, it was awful, but nowhere near as awful as the fact that some of the movies they released as “brand new” were nearly twenty years old and completely lacked the original release date.
Why am I beginning a review of The Heart Specialist with a anecdote to Jackie Chan? As I said before, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it took five years and a title change for The Heart Specialist to finally find its way to home video. Or, perhaps it’s because this urban dramedy features cameos by every one except Jackie Chan. Originally entitled Ways of the Flesh (the title change was well worth it, since this is not a sex flick), The Heart Specialist started production in 2006. It then sat on a shelf until 2011, wherein it played on no less than 500 screens nationwide during its limited theatrical run.
And, after seeing it for myself, I can see why no one bothered to push this film several years sooner; as it would have been obscured by the countless unfunny Tyler Perry comedies that infiltrated theaters and video stores at the time. Not that it will be noticed now, either, for that matter — as it’s not a terribly good film.
It does have a little life in it, though: an inkling of verve whose vital signs sadly wither in the face of the viewer — which is ironic considering the movie takes place largely in a hospital and with characters that are doctors. Purportedly based off of recordings from an actual physician, the story tells of Dr. Sidney Zachery (Wood Harris) aka Dr. “Z” and his endeavors to convince randy intern Ray (Brian White) that there are more things to do in the hospital than bang hot nurses (although I’m not sure what any of those other things would be). Dr. Z is also a stand-up comedian, using everyday material he obtains from his colleagues at a night club.
While some of the material here is rather fetching (as are many of the film’s performers, such as female co-stars Zoe Saldana and Mya), a lot of the film’s “serious” dialogue is about as laughably dull and one-dimensional as the paintings one would find at a church-sponsored art show. Worse still, the movie relies on too many cameos in order to keep its audience from falling asleep, to wit a number of urban stars (Marla Gibbs, Jasmine Guy, Method Man, Terrence J, Leon) pop up just to give the movie the “Street Cred” it obviously thinks it needs in order to sell itself to the audience it’s already aimed at. Irene Tsu also shows up for a scene, as does a surprisingly still-living Ed Asner, who appears for a few short seconds just to give the film a little “AARP Cred” with the old white people who still say things like “them colored folk.”
Had he been able to go back and revisit his work, auteur Dennis Cooper might have been able to improve what is destined to become benign, mid-afternoon BET fodder. Of course, he very well may have revisited his film during the five years it took to get released — so perhaps The Heart Specialist suffers from over-practicing, or, as some people may call it: George Lucas Syndrome. I can’t say for certain. Nor can I confess to caring, either — and I’m surely not the only one: Fox Home Entertainment, who shuffled this title onto Blu-ray and DVD, gave the film adequate A/V aspects, but the release’s sole special features are a few additional scenes and a shitload of previews.
And no, none of those previews are for Jackie Chan movies.