By Leah Rozen
Updated November 01, 1999 12:00 PM

Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames

The hero (Cage) of director Martin Scorsese’s latest bloody Valentine to New York City is a paramedic, but it’s a good bet that the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians will not be using this relentlessly grim drama as a recruiting film. Unless, that is, NAEMT is looking to fill its ranks with despondent burnouts like Cage’s character, a guy so disquieted by his daily dealings with death that he drinks on the job and dips into the pharmaceuticals stashed in his ambulance’s cupboards. His partners are no better role models. One (Rhames) is a wild man at the wheel who crashes their ambulance with blithe abandon; another (Tom Sizemore) is a psychopath who beats up patients he is supposed to be treating. “It has been months since I saved anyone,” Cage says early on. Little wonder.

Based on Joe Connelly’s 1998 novel of the same name, Bringing Out the Dead marks the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and scriptwriter Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ). Like their earlier movies, it is dark and full of anguish. Unlike the others, it doesn’t have much of a story to follow as Dead chronicles Cage’s downward spiral over the course of three nights on duty. The only bright spot in his life is his tentative friendship with Arquette (Cage’s wife in real life), an ex-junkie he meets when her father suffers a heart attack.

What Dead does have going for it, besides committed performances by Cage and the rest of the cast, is a bravura visual style, including a haunting sequence in which ghostly figures emerge from beneath empty nighttime streets to clutch at a hallucinating Cage. (R)

Bottom Line: Great-looking film, but plot needs CPR