January 22, 2010
Review - " Extraordinary Measures " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Nothing tugs at the heart as effectively as sick children, especially those with catastrophic illnesses. And, unfortunately,
Hollywood knows this. Exploitative doesn’t even begin to describe the callousness of the suits that equate ailing kids with
healthy profits. We saw it last year with “My Sister’s Keeper,” and we’ve seen it dozens of times before, especially on the
tube. Which, not so strangely, is where the roots of the new Harrison Ford vehicle “Extraordinary Measures” take hold. It’s the
first release from a little upstart called CBS Films, which is part of the vast Viacom empire governed by multi-billionaire
Sumner Redstone. Note to TV networks: If you’re looking to break into theaters, it’s probably unwise to start out with a
programmatic, by-the-book TV movie that implies your new theatrical-film imprint will be playing things safe and bland. Or
worse, that you can’t see past the stereotyped version of your own bailiwick. Unfortunately, this advice comes too late for the
new CBS subsidiary, which is launching its theatrical endeavors with the disease-of-the-week drama "Extraordinary
And as you might expect, it plays like a slicker version of an antiquated TV flick in which an illness is defined and cured in the
space of 90 minutes. Death, of course, is not an option. That describes “Extraordinary Measures” to a T, as Ford’s genetic
scientist rushes to devise a serum to prevent his business partner’s two “adorable” children from succumbing to a form of
muscular dystrophy called Pompe.
John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is living maybe the worst nightmare a parent can; watching two of his children slowly die from
a degenerative genetic illness with no cure. His only hope is the groundbreaking work of an absent-minded university
professor (Harrison Ford) with no money, no patience, and no social skills.
It would be very, very easy to just write "Extraordinary Measures" off as a big-budget Lifetime movie. In fact, that's exactly
what I'm going to do. "Extraordinary Measures" is just a Lifetime movie with more famous actors. It's weepy and designed to
build melodrama but terrified of confronting it, the kind of film where conflicts are always resolved by heartfelt confession.
A talented salesman, Crowley decides to make capitalism work for him, selling Dr. Stonehill's research to the private market in
the hope that the sheer amount of money involved will speed things along before his children's time runs out. What follows is
a hefty amount of corporate meetings and pep talks as Crowley tries to surf the wave of Stonehill's truculence and ego, and
he is surprised to discover that corporations put money before his children's well-being.
It's just... hollow. It does things not because they make any sense in the wake of what's come before or out of dramatic
necessity but because it seems like that's what's supposed to happen. Stonehill is a professor in Lincoln, Nebraska so
naturally when he gets off work he drives to a local rib joint where everyone calls him "Doc." He annoys his uptight corporate
co-workers - they must be uptight, well, because they work for a corporation - by playing The Band while he works.
"Extraordinary Measures" is a medical drama built from the parts of other medical dramas, trying to get by on the sentiment
on screen, but there's no effort put into making that sentiment matter. It's just there because the filmmakers need to fill up
120 minutes. Stonehill is mad and angry because he needs to be to come to loggerheads with Crowley when needed. Other
than what he does we don't really know anyone about him. In fact, the only character we're really offered to engage in is
Crowley, who runs straight and true and about as shallow as you can imagine. You know everything you need to know about
him in the first 5 minutes, and he never changes from there.
Maybe inspired performances could have made something out of this Hallmark film, and "Extraordinary Measures" does have
an excellent cast, but inspiration is not the word of the day here. Mediocrity is. I like Brendan Fraser but he has yet to show
real dramatic chops and he's not particularly tested by this film, nor is he alone in that. The film is filled with good actors
being wasted. Only Ford comes through more or less intact as he is (surprise) completely believable as a crusty old guy.
Executive producer Harrison Ford, co-starring as a crotchety, eccentric University Of Nebraska researcher whose theories
make Crowley’s task possible, but whose recalcitrance and flakiness put up constant barriers. His antics (including temper
tantrums, social obliviousness, and egocentric mayhem) give the film most of its flavor, but that’s by design: His character
was wholly invented for the movie, as a foil and drama-inciter. And no wonder. Without him, it would barely be a movie. Most
of the plot’s developments remain underplayed, a series of heartwarming moments and plodding procedural beats often not
addressed with enough detail to register.
But even with Ford, Extraordinary Measures reads like
little more than a dramatized timeline. It’s easy enough
to get caught up in Crowley’s race against the clock,
but the presentation leans heavily on emotional
manipulation and a tear-wringing score. Fraser has
little to do but look angsty and determined; Keri Russell,
as his wife, is an afterthought. Ford is an entertainingly
irascible scene-thief, but knowing he’s just there to
spice things up throws seeds of doubt into every
moment of the film, undermining and distracting from
Crowley’s real-life struggles. why make a hero of a man
like John Crowley, who inadvertently parlayed his fight
to find a cure for his two Pompe-inflicted kids into
millions of dollars in his own pocket? Crowley makes
profiting off of misfortune almost seem like a religious
experience. John Crowley got everything he ever
wanted. And it’s enough to make you sick.
Directed by: Tom Vaughn
Starring: Brendan Fraser,
Harrison Ford, Keri Russell,
Meredith Droeger, Diego
Velazquez, Sam Hall, Jared
Harris, Patrick Bauchau, Alan
Ruck, David Clennon, Dee
Wallace, Courtney B. Vance,