All Too Ordinary

Posted January 21, 2010 in Film

Pairing Brendan Fraser of The Mummy with iconic actor Harrison Ford might seem like a brilliant stroke of casting, one that could result in a great action movie, or so one might think.


But in the new film Extraordinary Measures, the two actors team up for a medical drama that is so lacking in excitement that it would be generous to even describe it as simply ordinary. 


Measures follows the true story of John Crowley, a pharmaceuticals executive who has three children—one is healthy but two suffer from the rare and fatal affliction called Pompe Disease, a genetic disorder which causes a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks down glycogen, causing muscle weakness throughout the body while enlarging the heart and other vital organs. 


The average lifespan of a person with Pompe is nine years, a fact that drives Crowley to an obsessive quest for the cure since his afflicted children are 6 and 8 years old. The best doctor in the country devoted to finding a cure is Robert Stonehill (Ford), a research scientist at the University of Nebraska who’s constantly hampered by a severe lack of funding and a bad attitude. 


When Crowley travels from his home in Oregon to Nebraska to force a meeting with Stonehill, he is so desperate that he creates a Pompe-fighting foundation out of thin air and promises the researcher $500,000 needed to bring a prospective cure to medical trials. After an agreement is forged, the film then follows the pair’s constant dancing on the financial and medical precipice as they face one challenge after another in raising funds and beating the clock to save Crowley’s kids.


This may all sound intriguing enough, but unfortunately the well-intentioned Measures maintains the same bland tone throughout. The utterly average script by Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat) and largely uninspired direction by Tom Vaughn (What Happens in Vegas) makes the film feel like a disease-of-the-week TV movie, a staple of television schedules that mercifully left the air in the 1990s. What’s ironic about that is the fact that the film is being released as the debut feature from the new company CBS Films, an offshoot of the CBS television network that ran the majority of those films, rounding out Sunday nights after Murder, She Wrote with two hours of sentimental searching by doctors just like the ones portrayed here by Fraser and Ford.


It’s simply too difficult to make the research against an obscure disease work as compelling cinema. And the film errs even further with its very limited locations and numerous fade outs from daytime to night and back again as they work around the clock. That’s a shame, because Ford brings a fun feistiness to the screen as the eccentric curmudgeon Stonehill, who drives his fellow scientists nuts by blasting classic rock through the laboratories at all hours of the night.


Fraser gets an all-too-rare chance to show his own strong dramatic chops, effectively conveying the sadness and desperation of a father whose children are slipping away before his eyes while having to put on a brave front for them. 


Here’s hoping that he’ll get another vehicle in which his gifts can be put to more challenging use than running from an army of zombie skeletons and the corpses of ancient Egyptian kings. 


Aside from another winning acting job by Keri Russell (whose performance in 2008’s Waitress was one of the past decade’s most vibrant) as Crowley’s wife, the rest of the cast’s performances run from wooden to schmaltzy. Its adorable child actors and solid moral and ethical values may provide a passable day at the movies for families, but anyone else—and even those families—may need life support to prevent them from dying of boredom. 


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