"Puncture"

"You can't tell, but I'm actually not looking at you."

*** (out of four)

It takes money to make money, and personal injury attorneys Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) and Paul Danziger (co-director Mark Kassen) don’t have any. So in 1998, when they take the case of a man who invents a safety needle that hospital employees can’t use due to unlawful contracts with medical suppliers, the Texas lawyers practically have “little fish in big pond” tattooed on their forehead. The more powerful corporate types are ready to feed.

That’s the true David-vs.-Goliath story behind “Puncture,” a riveting legal drama that easily represents Evans’ best work. His charisma shines in a role that doesn’t just ask him to strut. Mike is not only a savvy attorney; he’s a highly functioning, alligator-owning drug addict who often attends to his nose or arm before attending to any legitimate work. This serves him fine, when he doesn’t totally space out on his responsibilities or pass out in a truck before a big meeting.

Mike’s a fascinatingly imperfect man who’s eventually forced to make certain changes or give up on a cause he cares about. Evans plays him without any false enlightenment, only an increased sense of his own priorities as well as the forces working against him.

Movies like “The Lincoln Lawyer” can keep their stale “Law and Order” plots; “Puncture” may unfold like any number of stories about lawyers battling corporate greed (“Erin Brockovich,” “Michael Clayton”), but familiarity does nothing to temper its pulse and urgency. The script occasionally deserves some eye-rolling, however, and redundancy takes hold as we’re constantly reminded that Paul thinks they should drop the case and Mike wants to keep going.

Still, the movie effectively presents the power of the law for better and for worse, especially when it comes to the bottom line. Who cares about health anyway, right? It’s just business.

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mpais@tribune.com