Jeff Marx (Steve Guttenberg) is a smart but lazy pre-med student whose grades are so bad that he can’t get accepted to any of the good medical schools. His father (Bill Macy), who is also a doctor and who wants Jeff to one day take over the family practice, arranges for Jeff to attend medical school in a fictional Central American country. The head of the school, Dr. Ramon Madera (Alan Arkin), is also the country’s dictator. Dr. Madera is happy to make money off of desperate Americans but he still enforces strict rules of behavior at the school. He also makes it clear that none of the medical students are to treat the poor villagers who live near the school.
When Jeff arrives at his new school, he discovers that his classmates are, like him, all screw-ups. They’re also played by a cast of actors who, like Guttenberg, epitomize the 80s ensemble comedy craze. Curtis Armstrong, of Revenge of the Nerds and Risky Business, plays Jeff’s best friend. Fast Times At Ridgemont High‘s Robert Romanus is the Italian medical student who is loved by all the ladies. Airplane!‘s Julie Haggerty is the idealistic medical student who wants to take care of the local villagers. Even Gilbert Gottfried is in this movie! He plays Dr. Madera’s main assistant and hatchet man.
Bad Medicine was released in between the first and the second Police Academy films and it basically tells the same sort of story that made those two films unlikely hits. Guttenberg and his fellow students start out as a screw-ups but, by the end of the movie, they’ve proven themselves as doctors. Perhaps because it was based on a novel that was written by an actual doctor, Bad Medicine is a little more sincere than Police Academy. In Police Academy, the scenes of the recruits doing police work were the biggest jokes of all and, even after he helped to save the city, you still never bought the idea that Steve Guttenberg would have stuck around after graduation so that he could wear a uniform and walk a beat everyday. Though Bad Medicine is full of the usual Police Academy-style hijinks, it doesn’t treat the work that the doctors are doing as a joke. Though regrettable stereotypes abound (this is a film that features Gilbert Gottfriend playing a character named Tony Sandoval, after all), Bad Medicine treats the villagers with respect. Guttenberg gives a relaxed and likable performance, without making Jeff into as much of a wiseass of Police Academy‘s Cary Mahoney. Julie Haggerty brings her usual spacey charm to her role. Not surprisingly, it’s Alan Arkin who steals the film, though you do have to wonder how Dr. Madera has time to run both a country and a medical school while also falling in love with Julie Haggerty. Give the man some credit for knowing how to multitask.
It ends, much like Police Academy, with the med students giving a chance to prove themselves in a crisis situation. Unlike Police Academy, Bad Medicine was not a hit at the box office, though it did make a small profit. As a result, there was never a Bad Medicine 2, which is unfortunate because we could always use more good doctors.