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(1998) (Andy Garcia, Michael Keaton) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A cop must hunt down, but not kill, an escaped convict who is the only match for his son's desperately needed bone marrow transplant.
Frank Conner (ANDY GARCIA) is a San Francisco police officer whose nine-year-old son, Matt (JOSEPH CROSS), has leukemia and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant to stay alive. They've found the only perfect match who can be a donor, but the problem is he's Peter McCabe (MICHAEL KEATON), a homicidal sociopath who's locked up in prison. As Matt's doctor, Samantha Hawkins (MARCIA GAY HARDEN) prepares for the operation, Frank has to not only convince his boss, Captain Jeremiah Cassidy (BRIAN COX), to go along with it, but also McCabe who understandably wants something in return for his generosity.

After the arrangements are made, the police transport McCabe to the hospital, but during a well conceived plan, he escapes. Taking various hostages, McCabe tries to make his way out of the hospital while Frank has to make sure that no one, including his partner, Nate Oliver (ERIK KING), shoots and kills him. For if they do, his bone marrow will be useless and Matt will most certainly die.

If they're fans of Garcia or Keaton, or like suspense thrillers they probably will. Preteens, however, will probably have no interest in the film.
For violence and language.
  • ANDY GARCIA plays a cop and father who will do anything to save his son's life. That includes disobeying his commander's orders, breaking the law, and putting other people's lives at stake.
  • MICHAEL KEATON plays a homicidal sociopath who threatens, wounds, and kills people as he tries to escape from the hospital.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    "Desperate Measures," the latest release from TriStar Pictures and director Barbet Schroeder ("Reversal of Fortune," "Kiss of Death"), is also a good description of the steps taken by the film in an attempt to please the audience. Although it has an intriguing premise and features a fine performance from Keaton, the film eventually trips over itself and falls flat as it tries to be a topnotch thriller.

    The beginning, however, does indeed look promising as the setup immediately draws our interest. We have a cop who needs a murderous sociopath's bone marrow for his sick son. Then there's the convict who sees this as his best chance for escape, and once he does, finds that the cop won't let him get killed. It's quite the quandary, and on paper it sound great -- and even on film it's a captivating start. On one hand we have the dad who's genuinely concerned about his precious son, while on the other we have the convict who we know has some devious plan up his shackled sleeve. In fact, his escape plan is one of those that can only come from a screenwriter's brainstorming mind, and it's one of those that the audience always loves because it just seems so ingenious.

    So, you may ask, where does the story go wrong? Well, the biggest problem is that it simply has no where to go. Sure, screenwriter David Klass ("Kiss the Girls") delivers some chase scenes and suspenseful moments as the characters scurry from room to room and building to building, but there's never any doubt about how the story will end. You don't really think they'd let the nine- year-old die, do you? If they did, the audience would feel betrayed that they expended some concern about everything turning out okay. In addition, the story would end on a down note as the kid and the convict would both be dead and the cop would be terribly depressed. Likewise and directly related, you know that McCabe won't be shot and killed for the same reason -- if he dies his bone marrow is useless, the boy then dies, and we're back to the previous situation.

    Thus, what we're left with is a series of scenes where people threaten to shoot McCabe, but Conner won't let them. He has to figure out a creative and successful way to capture the convict and keep him alive. The problem is, he never does that. He does chase him all around the hospital and later outside it, but he never takes proactive steps in solving his dilemma. He reacts instead of acts, and that prevents the audience from totally getting behind his character.

    The other -- and bigger -- problem directly related to that is Garcia playing the cop in a very flat manner. While we understand he's all business because he's trying to save his son's life, he's playing this guy just like Jean-Claude Van Damme would: He either looks concerned or yells at others, but not much else. We can sympathize with his plight, but the fact that for the most part he's a one note character, we don't really have any reason to like him (beyond the obvious) and thus don't really root for his success.

    Somewhat by default then -- but also due to a stellar performance -- the audience turns its support to favor Michael Keaton's character. Playing one of the more richly created sociopath villains to come down the looney bin pike since Hannibal Lecter ("Silence Of The Lambs"), Keaton creates a guy who's "fun" to watch. It's not that we really want him to succeed, or that we support his actions, but he's so charismatic -- especially compared to Garcia's character -- that you can't help but secretly like the bad guy. Of course that may just be director Schroeder's plan -- to turn Garcia into something of a villain while making Keaton more sympathetic. Planned or not, that's the way it turns out.

    The former Mr. Mom and Batman has always had a darker side lying just beneath the surface of most of his characters, and roles such as in "Pacific Heights" highlighted that. But even in his comedies, that characteristic was there and that's why Keaton's brooding take on Batman was, and still is, the best of the series. His take here on McCabe is simultaneously chilling and entertaining, but unfortunately that character, like the others, finds himself stuck in a plot that eventually just ends up spinning its wheels.

    The rest of the performances are standard issue, nondescript parts and feature the stereotypical partner, police chief, concerned doctor and other such characters. The performers are okay, but easily could have been replaced by anyone without having any noticeable effect. Relative newcomer Joseph Cross -- as the nine-year-old leukemia victim -- does an okay job. At times, however, he's saddled with having to deliver lines of dialogue or bits of acting that are either written way too old for his age and/or are manipulatively unbelievable. Many are obviously intended to pull at the audience's heartstrings, but their obviousness undermines the effect.

    There's also the point that we often see the reportedly gravely sick boy up and running about (particularly near the end), which lessens our concern about his health. That's not the only problem. Others include most of the other police officers and superiors who too quickly question Conner and then turn on him. It's use as a plot device is also too obvious (an obstacle for his character) and needs better reasons to be successfully credible. Making him a "fugitive" is a smart move, it's just too bad that they didn't utilize that element very well.

    That, of course, also directly ties in with the fact that Conner's actions result in many people being threatened, wounded, and killed. Not only does that make him less heroic in our eyes, but it should also cause the other cops to really want to get him just as much as they want to get McCabe. There are a few brief moments of that, but not enough to make it highly effective.

    Then there's the question of why Conner just doesn't shoot and wound McCabe so that he can apprehend him, and still keep him alive for the bone marrow extraction. Perhaps if McCabe had kept a hostage at knife or gunpoint or deployed a backup plan -- a booby trap or timed explosive that only he could deactivate -- then we'd understand Conner's reluctance to shoot him. But when the two come face to face out in the open where Conner could simply shoot him in the leg to slow him down and capture him, he doesn't do it.

    Other minor points also undermine the film's efforts. One concerns McCabe being able to pull up plans on the prison computer for the hospital's blueprints, ventilation layout, etc... That such information (when part of the building is used as a prison itself) would be available over the computer/Internet is ludicrous. The worst part, though, is that the prison officials, or even Conner himself, would allow McCabe to have access to the computer (and those plans) knowing full well that's where he's being taken. Since Conner also initially studies the plans to look for possible escape routes, one would imagine he'd be smart enough to consider the convict having access to them as well. Such moments could easily have been worked around (McCabe getting someone else to bring him the information), but they come off so blatantly bad that they're an insult to the average moviegoer.

    Beyond all of those problems, the film then turns into nothing more than your run of the mill, extended chase sequence that's only moderately successful at being thrilling or even engaging. When the chase finally makes it out of the hospital and onto the streets of San Francisco, the big car chase follows (with cars flying in slow motion -- but fortunately nothing involving the famous hilly streets). Once this happens -- something I assumed and hoped had all but vanished from the big screen after decades of use -- you know that the film and the film makers have collectively run out of creative gas (especially when compared with far superior cop chasing convict movies such as "Face/Off").

    Despite Keaton's inspired performance and the initially intriguing premise, we can't recommend the film. Moviegoers who don't see many releases may find some of the action/chase scenes as suspenseful. Nearly everyone else, however, will find most of it repetitively trite and marginally passable as a "fun time" at the movies. For all of the above reasons, we give "Desperate Measures" just a 3 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the film's content. Profanity is extreme with more than 15 "f" words. Violence is also extreme as many people are threatened, wounded, or killed and consequently there is a moderate amount of blood and gore. There are also many chase/cat and mouse scenes that some viewers may find tense and suspenseful while others may not. Bad attitudes abound as the homicidal convict obviously has both, but the cop also breaks rules and is partially responsible for many people being threatened, wounded, or killed. The film also deals with a boy dying of leukemia for those sensitive to such issues. If someone in your home wishes to see this film, we suggest that you look through the listed material to determine whether it's appropriate for them and/or for you.

  • None.
  • We briefly see some non-graphic photos of murder victims.
  • McCabe has a little bit of blood on his lip.
  • McCabe's leg is very bloody after he's been shot and we see blood dripping onto the floor as well as a trail of blood drops.
  • We then see McCabe stitching up his own leg.
  • In the emergency room a man's face looks very scalded and/or burned.
  • Blood squirts from a man's head when he's shot.
  • Matt has a little bit of blood running from his nose.
  • Blood streams down from several bullets holes where a man has just been shot.
  • We see some body parts (a brain, a hand, etc...) in jars in the morgue.
  • Some people are somewhat bloody after being shot.
  • McCabe obviously has both for murders he committed in the past as well as his current actions (threatening, wounding, and killing people). He also mentions that he couldn't imagine a God who would care about his fate.
  • Frank disobeys orders and breaks the law as he tries to save his son's life. His actions also cause a great deal of property damage, as well as people being threatened, wounded, and killed.
  • Frank and his partner break into an office to retrieve computer information.
  • Frank's superior's and other officers quickly turn on him and treat him like the villain (partially justifiable).
  • Some viewers may find scenes listed under "Violence" as tense.
  • Frank and his partner break into an office to retrieve computer information and are nearly caught.
  • McCabe escapes from the surgeon's table and sets several people on fire. With his gun drawn, Frank slowly starts to hunt for him.
  • McCabe holds a scalpel to a man's throat and then later to Dr. Hawkins during a tense standoff where the police aim their guns at him.
  • We're told that Matt, having already gone through the initial bone marrow transplant procedure, is now susceptible to any infection and could die in a matter of hours.
  • There are several chase sequences and "cat and mouse" moments that some viewers may find suspenseful (in the hallways, steam tunnels, and out on the street, etc...).
  • McCabe holds a syringe filled with sulfuric acid to the police chief's neck.
  • Handguns/Rifles: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Scalpel/Syringe filled with acid: Used by McCabe to threaten people.
  • Phrases: "Bastard," "Blow job" and "Piss me off."
  • McCabe breaks (or dislocates) his own thumb.
  • McCabe uses dental floss to tie an ampule to his tooth. He then swallows the ampule so that it's not detected.
  • None.
  • There is a heavy amount of such music with ominous themes throughout the film and more suspenseful material during the chase and/or "cat and mouse" scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 16 "f" words (1 used sexually), 5 "s" words, 4 S.O.B.'s, 2 asses (1 using "hole"), 2 hells, 1 damn, and 1 use each of "Jesus" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • As McCabe threatens Dr. Hawkins (holding her against a wall) he says, "I've haven't been with a woman since you were a virgin" and then states, "I'm trying to be a gentleman here."
  • After Frank says that his son needs the operation, McCabe says that he needs a "blow job" but that it will have to wait.
  • McCabe smokes several times.
  • Some minor characters smoke as well.
  • Frank must constantly deal with the fact that his son is dying from leukemia and that the boy's only hope is that his dad captures the escaped convict alive.
  • There's some brief talk about the mother dying in a car wreck. The son later wonders if he'll "see" his mom when he dies (his dad says he doesn't know). He also mentions that he doesn't really remember what she looks like and wonders if his dad will remember him when he dies.
  • McCabe briefly mentions that his father used to constantly beat him.
  • Leukemia, bone marrow transplants, and whether the film accurately portrays the reality of both.
  • The boy who has leukemia is rather depressed and asks, "If I can't have any fun, what's the point" when told that he has to fight to stay alive (he's worried about not being able to play with his friends, getting sick again and/or the possibility of dying).
  • The fact that Conner allows many other people to be threatened, wounded, and/or killed so that his son can have the transplant (ie. Do the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?).
  • McCabe breaks (or dislocates) his own thumb.
  • McCabe escapes and sets several people on fire but is shot in the leg.
  • McCabe holds a scalpel to a man's neck as he cuts off the convict's shackles.
  • McCabe holds a scalpel and then a gun on Dr. Hawkins. He then shoots two people, killing one of them.
  • Frank hits another cop in the gut to get away from him.
  • Frank drives a motorcycle through several glass panels.
  • McCabe strikes Frank's partner and then slams Dr. Hawkins against a wall.
  • Dr. Hawkins hits McCabe several times with a heavy gas canister.
  • Frank shoots at McCabe several times who then sets off an explosion that blows up an entire room.
  • McCabe breaks through a glass panel as the police shoot at him and Frank shoots out a spotlight.
  • McCabe holds a syringe filled with sulfuric acid to the police chief's neck.
  • McCabe shoots and kills a man.
  • A man shoots a gas canister that blows up a hallway bridge that falls onto police cars parked below.
  • A man is shot and wounded.
  • McCabe holds guns on Frank and his son who later hits the convict with a crowbar.
  • Several cars crash into each other.
  • A man shoots at a helicopter.
  • Several people are shot.

  • Reviewed January 27, 1998

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