|Harrison Ford||Dr. Robert Stonehill|
|Sam M. Hall||John Jr.|
|Directed by||Tom Vaughan|
They make good movies about bad people, so there's no reason why there shouldn't be bad movies about good people. Extraordinary Measures is a lightweight construction about a desperate circumstance – a terminal childhood disease – and the lengths to which one family went to help discover a cure. This is one of those dramas that open with the disclaimer "Inspired by a true story," which means that what we are about to see will be true-ish, which is certainly close enough for the movies. It's like adapting a novel – the filmmakers' job is to find the spine of the story and render it on screen, not to render the whole book page for page. But the idea is to find a riveting dramatic storyline, which Extraordinary Measures fails to do. This movie's heart is in the right place, and the real-life drama it relates and enhances is remarkable and rewarding, but there is no reason for this telling of it to be taking up space on a theatrical screen. Its natural habitat is the comfortable, remote-controlled quarters of a television movie-of-the-week.
The disease in question here is Pompe Disease, a rare neuromuscular disorder in children that leads to muscle deterioration, organ enlargement, and, (before the events described in this movie discovered a treatment), death. The family is the Crowleys. John is a middle management sales executive at a big pharmaceutical company. He is played by Brendan Fraser, the former action star (The Mummy) who is beginning to take on the dimensions of a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Fraser is a pretty good actor who is at his best with roles that call for some humor and swagger. Neither of those qualities are called upon here.
The other headliner is Harrison Ford, another former action star (Indiana Jones). Ford looks to be in much better shape than Fraser, except that his face appears to be suffering from a rare neuromuscular disorder that prevents it from changing expression. He actually does have two expressions, the scowl and the half-smile, but he relies heavily on the former. Ford (who also Executive Produced) plays Dr. Robert Stoneface, sorry, Stonehill, a research scientist at the University of Nebraska. In real life the Pompe cure was developed by a research scientist at Duke named Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen, but Harrison Ford doesn't do Chinese. Stonehill is a grumpy old man who toils away alone in his office to classic rock blaring so loud he can't hear the phone ring. He is grumpy at least in part because Nebraska pays its football coach more than his entire research budget. He is making theoretical progress on an enzyme that has potential to arrest the symptoms of Pompe, but lacks the business and personal skills to translate that into an actual medication.
Unable to reach Stonehill on the phone, and desperate after his 9-year-old daughter Megan suffers a respiratory crisis, Crowley walks out of an important business meeting. This scene provides a good example of the script's level of dialogue.
Boss: "John! Where are you going?"
(Another irresistible nugget: "You're right. This is crazy. I'm chasing the whirlwind.")
And so the team of Crowley and Stonehill, the Odd Couple of biotech, is born. Crowley quits his job (and its health-care benefits) to launch a startup with Stonehill. He raises the funding to set up a research lab stocked with young scientists ("They like risk," says Stonehill, "and besides you can pay them less.") He and Stonehill meet a lot with money people and later with corporate people, which is about as much fun as it sounds. Stonehill is a bit of a loose cannon, and tends to disrupt meetings with his tantrums, but as we've just seen, Crowley is no slouch at disrupting meetings himself.
Director Tom Vaughn (What Happens in Vegas) shepherds the story through bonding, betrayal, corporate villainy, despair, and hope. It plods along with scarcely a flicker of convincing truth, and with surprisingly few heart-tugging moments, although there are some scattered through the movie. Keri Russell is the mother, and shows up for work dutifully with not much to do. Jared Harris does a nice heartless job as a corporate heavy, but it's a cipher role. The thing that keeps the movie from sinking completely is the spunky performance of Meredith Droeger as the afflicted little girl. Megan wheels around in her motorized chair with the zest of a kid at the bumper car concession at a carnival. She is the apple of her father's eye and, with her biological clock swiftly running down, she's the immediate cause behind the urgency to find a cure. The other Pompe's child, six-year-old Patrick (Diego Velazquez), can't really compete, and doesn't try. And there's a healthy older boy, John Jr. (Sam M. Hall) who goes along for the ride.
Harrison Ford still retains enough of his old movie star magic to ramp up the electricity a bit when he's onscreen, but this only makes you want to see him do something that makes better use of his gifts. Brendan Fraser just seems to grow bigger over the course of the movie. And if you're looking for an inspirational story about a parent who throws himself into finding a cure for his child's incurable disease, Nick Nolte covers much of the same ground in Lorenzo's Oil, and does it better.
© Text 2010 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be