Movie Review: Extraordinary Measures

BY ALEX RICH | JANUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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** out of *****

Brendan Fraser must have the greatest agent in Hollywood history. After such bombs as Bedazzled, Monkeybone, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, he somehow continues to land parts in big-budget movies, such as the new film Extraordinary Measures.

The movie tells the real-life story of John Crowley (Fraser), a pharmaceutical executive for Bristol-Myers Squibb. Two of Crowley’s children are afflicted with Pompe disease, leaving them confined in wheelchairs, breathing through tubes, and in constant need of nurses. Crowley spends the duration of the flick desperately searching for a cure for his children (especially his daughter Megan, who has a near-fatal respiratory complication), and in his research comes across the stunning theories of Dr. Robert Stonehill.

Stonehill is an eccentric and antiestablishment scientist, but he has a good taste for classic rock and a love for children. The filmmakers don’t explain why he is so grumpy, other than that he is played by America’s pre-eminent scowling hero, Harrison Ford. When Crowley finds Stonehill, the pair race against Megan’s failing body in an attempt to save Crowley’s children and create a cure for Pompe disease.

The rest of the movie is a rehashing of clichés depicting the noble, caring father and his genius partner battling against the corporate world to save children/the environment/insert-your-own-underrepresented-group-here.

Sadly, every time there is a hot-button issue in Washington, some studio executive in Hollywood strokes his chin and says to himself, “There must be a way to make money off of this,” and he goes to work searching for timely screenplays. This year, that issue was health-care reform, and the words “health insurance” appear early and often in the film as a continual reminder of the Crowley family’s peril.

The audience may be confused by the marketing of the movie. The studio ran with a trailer designed to put adrenaline junkies in the seats, but little rush is to be found in the film. In fact, in one of the few scenes with tension (when Fraser’s character steals medicine for his kids), the action does nothing but distract the viewer, and it should have been cut. Rather than wasting time with false promotion, the studio should have invested in quality actors.

Another problem with Extraordinary Measures is its pace — giving the audience about as much tension as opening up a fortune cookie. This poses a real problem for the viewer because the stakes are so high for all of the characters, and to not feel the pressure leaves a sense of apathy toward Crowley, when he should be the hero the audience cheers on.

The most painful part of the movie was not seeing the faces of children afflicted with Pompe, but rather watching Fraser trying to act. For instance, there is a scene in which Crowley breaks down and Fraser forces himself to tears, but it is just not believable to see a character such as Crowley sobbing in his office. Fraser’s portrayal of the “caring father” is about as believable as his performance as a thawed caveman in Encino Man.

The best thing to say about Extraordinary Measures is that it escapes from one cliché trapping of inspirational films: the dramatic address. Rather than speeches about love given to evil or corporate fat cats, the film works in the opposite direction — Stonehill’s anger ultimately saves Crowley’s children.

The worst thing that can be said about the film isn’t that it leaves viewers with a disgustingly warm, fuzzy feeling, but rather, it’s just flat-out boring.

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