January 22, 2010 / 3:34 AM / 9 years ago

Harrison Ford can't cure "Extraordinary Measures"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Since “Extraordinary Measures,” a tremulous medical drama about a father trying to save the lives of his children, is the first feature released by the newly constituted CBS Films, it’s all too tempting to describe the piece as a TV movie, reminiscent of those disease-of-the-week affairs that used to clog the tube.

Cast members Brendan Fraser (L) and Harrison Ford pose together at the premiere of CBS film's "Extraordinary Measures" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, January 19, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

That might be a cheap shot, but unfortunately, it’s pretty close to the mark. The movie works on an unsubtle level; you’d have to be stonehearted not to respond to this tale of adorable tots in jeopardy. But it never rises above formula fare. The film has modest box office appeal but will have to overcome mixed reviews.

An opening title informs the audience that the picture is “inspired by a true story,” and indeed, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) was a real person fighting to find a treatment for Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder related to muscular dystrophy. But the doctor played by Harrison Ford is a composite character, the time frame is drastically compressed and the pharmaceutical company that develops the life-saving enzyme is a fictional conglomeration. Although the reasons for these elisions are understandable, they rob the film of the bite that a more honest record might have had.

Producers Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and Carla Santos Shamberg have had success with other true-life stories, including “World Trade Center” and “Freedom Writers,” though the best of their productions, “Erin Brockovich,” was the one that hewed closest to the truth.

When John’s daughter Megan (effectively played by Meredith Droeger) almost dies of a respiratory infection, John seeks out reclusive research scientist Robert Stonehill (Ford), and the doctor agrees to join him in the search for a cure.

The best thing about the movie is Ford’s effortless star performance as the curmudgeonly Stonehill. Although the conception of the eccentric genius doesn’t break any new ground, Ford underplays masterfully. Fraser is less successful. Although Stonehill describes Crowley as “ruthless,” Fraser refuses to allow us to see that side of the character; instead, he turns twinkly and noble. Keri Russell is likable as Fraser’s wife, but her role is stock.

British director Tom Vaughan made a promising feature debut a few years ago with the college drama “Starter for Ten,” and he keeps the family scenes from turning unbearably treacly, but he doesn’t bring a lot of edge to the film. The script by Robert Nelson Jacobs (“Chocolat”) doesn’t completely ignore the bottom-line orientation of Big Pharma, but it seems too bland and watered-down.

Cinematography is perfunctory, and the sappy score by Andrea Guerra underscores the formulaic nature of the script. The first half of “Measures” has considerable energy thanks to the editing skills of veteran Anne V. Coates, but then the picture is dragged down by too many turgid confrontations and predictable epiphanies.

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