B-

Pathology

The ludicrous thriller Pathology was scripted by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the writing team responsible for the (literally) adrenaline-fueled Speed knock-off Crank, and based on those two efforts, they're on the cutting edge of high-concept pulp sleaze. This isn't an insult. Neither film works quite as well as it should—perhaps a problem their next effort, which they co-directed, will solve—but Neveldine and Taylor have a knack for nutso conceits that aren't easily forgotten. It's impossible to talk about their movies without chuckling a little, and when discussing genre trash, that isn't a bad start.

Pathology opens with a sober reveal of the Hippocratic Oath, which is presented as one of those rules that's meant to be broken. Top of his class at Harvard—a designation that all hotshot young doctors and lawyers in the movies seem to share—Milo Ventimiglia joins a group of student forensic pathologists at a prestigious Washington, DC hospital. People who spend a lot of time around corpses tend to have a dark side, but Ventimiglia soon discovers that these interns are considerably darker than most. Headed by sinister ringleader Michael Weston, half a dozen student pathologists are part of an after-hours club that could be called the Dead People's Society. Using an abandoned section of the hospital as a meeting place, they take turns killing people in elaborate ways and challenging the group to figure out how exactly they did it. Not quite the straight-arrow he appears to be, Ventimiglia gets roped into their macabre game, assured that the victims are deserving ones, like child molesters or pimps.

There are a lot of diabolically clever ideas at play in Pathology, but Ventimiglia and director Marc Schoelermann snuff them out by treating the material gravely when they should be turning up the volume. As an actor, Ventimiglia (Rocky Balboa, TV's Heroes) seems incapable of having any fun, but here, he's playing a character who's on vacation from his conscience; after his residency is over, he can get on with his buttoned-down life as if nothing ever happened, but even a kinky, Body Of Evidence-like fling with a fellow doctor (Lauren Lee Smith) leaves him stone-faced. For his part, Schoelermann misses the satirical possibilities of a premise that's the ultimate testament to the arrogant detachment of the medical profession. Neither of them seems to realize that their movie is fundamentally—and at times gloriously—ridiculous, but much like Crank, it's the guiltiest of guilty pleasures anyway.

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