Healer: Tale of Ex-Con Paramedic, Starring Tyrone ower Jr.

John G. Thomas’ Healer, which received its world premiere at the Ninth Santa Barbara Film Fest, is a slim, poorly-written message movie about the transformation of an irresponsible ex-con into a compassionate paramedic.

Though set in the potentially exciting world of paramedics and meant to raise consciousness about the elderly, ineptly-made indie may only surface in minor film festivals or retrospectives of regional cinema.

At the center of Healer is Nickel Dayton (Tyrone Power, Jr.), an ex-con who is paroled to an ambulance service at the local hospital, where he must work out the last year of his sentence. As the yarn begins, Nickel is told that he must hold onto his job or else be sent back to prison. As part of his professional training, he’s partnered with Brent (John R. Johnston), a more experienced and cynical paramedic, who perceives his work as dealing with “lizards, sevens, and turkeys” (old people, dead bodies, and charlatans, respectively, in ambulance jargon).
Set in a retirement resort called “Seabreeze,” the narrative follows the team’s adventures and the various people they encounter while on the job. Among them are Igor Vostovich (Turhan Bey), an old Russian immigrant, placed in a nursing home against his will, and Francie (DeLane Matthews), a young woman who’s so committed to taking care of her ailing grandmother that she neglects to have a life of her own.
Russ Reina’s schematic script, which is based on his personal experience as a paramedic, draws on all too obvious contrasts between children who neglect their aging parents and those who sacrifice themselves completely to the cause. As could be expected, Igor soon begins to function as a surrogate father to Nickel, preaching and moralizing about the important things in life, and Nickel pursues an uneasy romance with Francie.
A feeble comic relief, in an otherwise stale film, is provided by a character named the Jackal (David McCallum), an endearing, if opportunistic drifter, who seems to be present wherever there are gullible people to be exploited–be they hospital officials or patients.
Regional writer Reina has reportedly worked for eight years on his screenplay, though it’s hard to tell from the finished product. His characters don’t converse so much as they deliver blatant, heavy-handed speeches about human compassion and responsibilities. Worse yet, though Reina’s heart is in the right place, the old people are so awkwardly portrayed and shot in the first part of the film, that ironically one might draw the wrong conclusion about his attitude toward the elderly.
Despite attempts to avoid TV-movie like political correctness, John G. Thomas’ clumsy direction accentuates even more the script’s conventional and didactic structure. Unfortunately, Thomas fails to endow the picture with the energy and pacing that would lift the writing from its pedestrian level.
With the exception of David McCallum’s (TV’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) entertaining performance as the Jackal, the rest of the cast lacks color and distinction. This is particularly true of Tyrone Power Jr., who looks and acts very much like his father, and DeLane Matthews. Neither can enliven or personalize their stiff, formulaic roles. On the craft level, technical credits are average, though Dann Cahn’s inconsistent editing lacks fluidity.