[Screen It]

(2010) (Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford) (PG)

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Drama: With the aid of a brilliant but short-fused medical researcher, a man races against time and must deal with various obstacles to bring an experimental drug to market and thus possibly save the lives of his two young kids who are afflicted with a deadly genetic disorder.
John Crowley (BRENDAN FRASER) is a marketing executive at a major pharmaceutical company in Portland that ironically doesn't manufacture a drug that might save the lives of two of his kids. Then again, no cure or even life sustaining drug currently exists for those suffering from Pompe Disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy that results in eventual loss of muscle control and dangerous enlargement of various body organs. Worse yet, it only afflicts the young, with an expected lifespan of only nine years or so.

Accordingly, John, his wife, Aileen (KERI RUSSELL), and their oldest son, John Jr. (SAM M. HALL) who doesn't have the genetic disease, can only watch as the conditions of 8-year-old Megan (MEREDITH DROEGER) and 6-year-old Patrick (DIEGO VELAZQUEZ) progressively deteriorate. But there's a glimmer of hope in the medical research work being done by Dr. Robert Stonehill (HARRISON FORD) who's been researching the disorder for the past 10 years at the University of Nebraska.

Brilliant but a bit eccentric and possessing a short-fuse and disdain for being interrupted, Robert hasn't returned any of Brendan's calls. When Megan nearly dies from her worsening condition, John drops everything, travels to Nebraska, and convinces Robert to help him. But the two need a lot of money to take the promising drug from concept to marketable product, and thus scramble for venture funding and finally agree to a deal with a larger firm run by Erich Loring (PATRICK BAUCHAU).

Yet, as John clashes with their immediate supervisor, Dr. Kent Webber (JARED HARRIS), and Robert with nearly everyone else, time and a number of bureaucratic obstacles threaten their efforts and thus the lives of John and Aileen's youngest kids.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
In nearly any vocation, there are different levels of output and expectation from what are essentially just slight variations of the same performer or product. While professional and arena league football players pretty much look the same and play a similar game, there's a discernable difference between them, just as there is between luxury sports cars and commuter vehicles.

The same holds true for movies made to play on the big screen versus those that debut on far smaller ones at home. While specialty channels such as HBO can deliver tremendous films, and some hour-long TV dramas are better written than many theatrical movies, there's usually a fairly noticeable difference between films of differing release destinations.

"Extraordinary Measures" is the most recent proof positive of just that. A well-intentioned medical research drama, it pretty much feels exactly like a Lifetime, Hallmark or even network "disease of the week" flick. In fact, without the star power of Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser in the lead parts, this offering likely would have debuted on TV. And that probably would have been on CBS or one of its properties as this is the debut offering from CBS Films, a specialty division from the network that plans on releasing a number of films each year in theaters.

Hopefully, the unit's future offerings will have more of a big screen aura to them as this one -- penned by Robert Nelson Jacobs and directed by Tom Vaughan -- decidedly doesn't feel like a movie theater film. "Inspired by" true events that were chronicled in Geeta Anand's book "The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million - And Bucked the Medical Establishment - in a Quest to Save His Children," the film would seem to have most everything going for it.

Beyond the presence of Fraser and Ford (who also serves as one of the executive producers), the cast also includes Keri Russell (who won over moviegoers with her lead role in "Waitress"), features some cute and, in one case, precocious kids, and features the underdog tale of a father fighting the odds, battling the system and doing what he must to save his sick kids' lives before time runs out for them.

Alas, and despite all of the right intentions, the film has been written, directed, edited and scored in such ways that the effort not only doesn't stand out like a feature film would, but also means most of the material -- both individual scenes and the collective whole -- feels rushed, not quite ripe and, worse yet, simply quite flat.

Even if viewed as a TV movie offering, the choppy editing results in an episodic feel that robs the story of most any sort of building momentum between individual scenes, some of which are decently handled. And the script simply introduces the premise and then lines up the various obstacles (including, but not limited to Fraser's father character having to convince Ford's researcher one to help him, the two trying to get their hands on venture funding to bring their hypothesized product to market, dealing with the bureaucracy of being swallowed up into a larger corporate entity, etc.) like ducks in a row, all of which only exacerbates the "and this happens and then that happens" flow.

In other words, there's little nuance to the various elements or how they all fit together. The same holds true for Ford's performance. In short, it simply ranges from somewhat eccentric researcher (noted by his blaring of classic rock songs to fuel him and/or drown out distractions) to varying degrees of angry and anti-social behavior (meant to show outrage at "the system") that often borders on crossing over the line into caricature territory. It's certainly far from the actor's best work.

While not his either ("Gods and Monsters" still serves as that career high point), Fraser is good and thankfully has returned to serious work and briefly put aside the action and goofy characters that have made him a handsome living. Yet, the film's overall flatness occasionally creeps over into his performance, stealing some of his thunder, especially in engaging viewers. While his basic plight and goal will certainly have empathetic audiences rooting for his success, there's something tangible missing that could have turned this into a gut-wrenching roller coaster ride of battling the odds and obstacles that stand in his way.

Russell is decent but not much is asked of her that's out of the norm for such a character, while Meredith Droeger does the disabled but precocious thing without feeling forced or overly sentimental. Sam M. Hall is decent as her healthy brother, but Diego Velazquez's character doesn't get much attention, while Jared Harris is mostly relegated to just playing the obligatory villain of sorts. Just like the rest of the film, though, his persona feels just enough off the norm associated with big screen offerings that the character, along with the rest of the film, isn't fully fleshed out.

That also holds true for the script that simply goes from one point to the next without staying around long enough or delving deep enough into the substance to make it connect with the viewer. I'm guessing those who enjoy "disease of the week" TV movies will probably like this just fine. But for those used to big screen movie dramas and that extra level of professionalism that goes along with them, the feeling might be that the filmmakers didn't take the title to heart in crafting this offering. Not bad, but just mediocre and thus fairly boring, "Extraordinary Measures" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 19, 2010 / Posted January 22, 2010

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