The M/C Review: ‘Extraordinary Measures’ is nothing special

01.22.10 8 years ago

CBS Films

Y’know, my first thought after suffering through the puerile “What Happens In Vegas” was, “Wow, I hope someone hires this director to remake ‘Lorenzo’s Oil,’ only really, really dull.”

And, lo, my wish was granted.

I’d feel worse about beating up on this overly-earnest tearjerker if the “based on a true story” part of the equation were actually true, but it’s not.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading in the last week on the story behind the film, and everything that’s been changed was changed in service of what William Goldman once famously referred to as “Hollywood Horseshit.”

Which, coincidentally, was a cop movie starring Harrison Ford, wasnt it?

Okay, okay, I’ll dial back the snark a bit.  To be fair, the film’s not as bad as “Legion,” also opening today, and it’s not as dull as “Creation,” which opens next week, but anyone worried that CBS Films would basically make glorified TV movies will find plenty here to justify that fear.  Brendan Fraser, who is evidently on an all-butterfat diet these days, stars as John Crowley, a man who has two children who are afflicted with Pompe disease, a rare degenerative disorder that usually kills children very young.  Last year, when I was at Sundance, my wife called me to tell me that our oldest son had been diagnosed as pre-asthmatic, and I felt like my world was caving in.  Since then, I’ve learned it’s not serious and that it may never turn into anything worse, but at the time, there was a powerlessness that hit me like a sledgehammer. 

On that level, I can relate to what Fraser’s character in the film feels.  He basically has a metldown and decides that he can’t just play the role the doctors have asked him to play, sitting quietly by and waiting for his children to die.  He tracks down Dr. Robert Stonehill (who evidently already works around the clock) and offers to fund his promising theoretical work in an effort to turn it into a practical application.  The two men never become friends, but they do manage to create a sort of partnership that ends up with some real results.

Problem is, that’s not how it happened.  At all.

I don’t need a “based on a true story” movie to hit every beat exactly.  Look at “HOWL,” which I reviewed earlier tonight.  That’s all based on court transcripts and real interviews, but I wish they’d gone off book to get to the soul of Ginsberg.  Here, we’re offered Harrison Ford as a grumpy curmudgeon of a doctor who just happens to be a genius toiling away in obscurity.  The real Dr. Chen, one of the men who helped with the breakthroughs that now make Pompe disease survivable, worked at Duke University.  That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what the film asserts, and John Crowley, an easy hero in a movie like this, may not have been as self-serving or as central to the solution as the film claims, either.  As a result, the only level I can offer any recommendation on is as a shameless melodrama.  Even then, the film’s rarely shameless enough.

Good actors like Keri Russell and Jared Harris spend the movie sidelined, and there’s a strange simmering anger against Big Pharma that might have made for a better film or at least a more focused film, but every time the movie comes close to landing a punch, it backs off.

Overall, this is one of those Teflon films, a movie that won’t stick at all, and even though I only saw it a few weeks ago, I find that I’m already fuzzy on big chunks of it.  It’s bland to look at, blandly performed, and pedestrian in almost every way.  There’s nothing “extraordinary” about it.

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