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In real life, there seem to be precious few examples of noble, charismatic hostage-takers, but for some reason the movies are full of them. The latest is John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington), a factory-working everyman who commandeers a hospital emergency room to get a desperately needed heart transplant for his preteen son Mikey (Daniel E. Smith). John’s HMO won’t pay for the operation, so an icy hospital administrator (Anne Heche) and an oily cardiac surgeon (James Woods) plan to send the kid home to die. Soon, the pistol-packing John has padlocked the emergency-room doors and is dispensing Denzel Washington-style gruff wisdom to his hostages. Outside, a crusty but straight-talking police negotiator (Robert Duvall) and an officious, duplicitous police chief (Ray Liotta) make separate plans to free the hostages and capture John, and a glib TV reporter (Paul Johansson) gleefully exploits the event. James Kearns’ script tries to build tension by proposing a medically unethical twist, although the movie undermines the suspense by opening with a car crash that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t going to provide a likely heart donor. “From now on, free health care for everyone,” announces John, and if that seems simplistic, wait ’til you hear everyone who encounters the hostage-taker describe him as “a very good man,” “my hero,” or variations on that theme. With dueling news-video appearances by George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton and a chorus of TV comedians underscoring the hostages’ earnest discussion of “the hypocratic oath,” John Q. plays like a two-hour advertorial for nationalized health care. Director Nick Cassavetes (son of John) does show some restraint, notably by not swamping John’s big soliloquy with music, but this is a far more formulaic effort than his previous films, Unhook the Stars and She’s So Lovely. —Mark Jenkins