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Friday
Jan222010

Extraordinary Measures

Before the first shot of a bouquet of balloons proclaiming "It's a girl!" shows up in the new Brendan Fraser/Harrison Ford drama Extraordinary Measures, a logo pops up, one I had never seen before: CBS Films. I questioned, when did CBS start their own film production company? Pretty recently one assumes because this is their first big screen attempt and, appropriately, looks and feels like a TV movie. From scene to scene, each passing shot, every line of dialogue, all of it screamed television. Had it appeared on the small screen, it would have been a damn fine adaptation, but theatrical films are held to a higher standard and this amateurish production does little to convince that it belongs where it is.

The story of Extraordinary Measures follows John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a father of three kids. The youngest two, at ages six and eight, suffer from Pompe, a disease similar to muscular dystrophy where the muscles weaken due to excessive build-up of glycogen. Their life expectancies range around age 9, a number fast approaching his two children. After a scare where his daughter almost dies, he decides he must do all he can to try to find a cure. He had been studying up on the disease and reading theories proposed by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a Nebraska scientist who had been working on a solution to saving the lives of Pompe sufferers. Crowley convinces Stonehill to join him, partly through his determination and partly through the huge check he bestows to him. So will they find a cure before it's too late? Well, it's based on a book by Geeta Anand called "The Cure," which flashes onscreen right at the beginning of the movie, so I'd say it's a safe bet.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I honestly thought it was a commercial for a TV movie, and as I mentioned earlier, it follows the exact formula a film appearing on, say, Lifetime would, all the way down to the low angle "person-slides-their-back-down-against-a-wall-in-sadness" shot. The look of the film is simplistic, the dialogue is perfectly suitable for the medium (sans a few FCC deemed dirty words), and it tugs at the heartstrings, as most of these things do.

Besides, who doesn't feel sadness when children are deathly ill and happiness when that one in a million shot to save their lives pulls through? But that's the problem. I've seen this movie played out on television countless times, each one more manipulative than the last. Sick kids are an easy target because even the most hardened of souls wouldn't wish harm on a helpless child. Yes, I cared about the children and I hoped they would pull through, but that was more due to the fact that I'm not a soulless bastard more than it was because the film was of good quality.

Granted, it's not as bad as I expected it to be. The first hour is painful to watch, with transitions from scene to scene where commercials could have easily been placed, but it picks up and the performances are good enough. Harrison Ford, though not quite as youthful and spirited as he used to be, does a fine job in his role as the contemptuous doctor who sometimes lets his anger get the best of him, and Brendan Fraser finally gets to flex his dramatic muscles after three nonsense loony films (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and Inkheart). I like him that side of him and it's the most sincere I've seen him since 2004's excellent Crash.

But that pesky television look and heavy-handed narrative just keep getting in the way. It's funny really because it's a great made for TV movie, but it's not even a good theatrical one. I felt the attempt and I appreciated the uplifting story, but you've got to do better than this to justify your big screen existence. Extraordinary Measures is admirable and has nothing to object to, but nevertheless, you can wait for it to reach cable, where it should have been all along.

Extraordinary Measures receives 2/5