Directed by Nick Cassavetes, starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Ray Liotta and Ann Heche.

The first thing that springs to mind when watching 'John Q' is "where's Mel Gibson?" as this is exactly the kind of film fodder Gibson relishes (see 'Ransom', 'Lethal Weapon'). Instead the awful role of leading man falls to an actor of far superior calibre as Denzel Washington steps up for what could easily be the nadir of his career.

Here's the pitch - you're a low income African American family in modern America. Your son gets sick, he needs a heart transplant, you don't have adequate health insurance. What do you do? In this case you highjack the local A&E department and hold out until the hospital authorities agree to find (and pay) for a donor. If that doesn't sound far-fetched enough for you, marvel at the truckload of clichés we're subjected to. Not only is high-jacking and securing a large area of a hospital easy enough, but John Q manages it alone armed with some metal chains, padlocks and one gun.

Despite the inconvenience of being held hostage, it's not long before the waiting room prisoners are laughing and joking with their captor - as you do in these situations. There are teary phonecalls to his son that the press feed live to television, masses of screaming supporters outside cheering him on and even the hard-faced hospital manager (Ann Heche) sheds a tear.

A combination of glib storyline and banal script never elevate this above a predictable tear-jerker that points the finger at the establishment and preaches about the need for proper medical insurance. Robert Duvall is underused as the hostage negotiator while Ray Liotta is all bureaucratic pomp. Having won a deserved Oscar for 'Training Day', it's disappointing to see Washington in such poor flick, even if he brings the only shred of finesse to this film. Not so much 'John Q', as John Why (bother)?

Sinéad Gleeson