Extraordinary Measures: made-for-TV reaches for the big screen
Films opening this week:
Extraordinary Measures - Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals
Legion - Maple Ridge; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals
To Save a Life - Galleria Regal
Tooth Fairy - Maple Ridge; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals
It is interesting to see a company like CBS throw its hat in the motion picture ring, especially with the financial climate of the industry so muggy. I guess there's enough revenue from CSI and its spin-offs to produce a few movies a year with high-end talent. Add to that the marketing dream of easy access to advertising during football games and the formula looks better and better. At first glance, the content of Extraordinary Measures looks as conventional and sappy as any made-for-TV venture. But maybe this is wisdom of CBS Films—start with an "inspired by true events" yarn, and look to get edgier in the future. (Letting J.Lo carry your sophomore effort, The Back-up Plan, is definitely edgy—i.e., will anyone see it?)
It's definitely a step in the right direction for Tom Vaughn, whose last effort was the somewhat abysmal What Happens in Vegas. Extraordinary Measure's story, about one father’s fight to find a drug to save his children’s lives, is certainly by-the-book, but it's handled competently. There are the usual contrivances of pitting a large corporation of heartless bean-counters—although they also are the source of investment and research capital—as the villain, sick kids overcoming adversity, and a volatile genius always on the verge of derailing his own work. But what did you expect? I doubt anyone will go into this movie anticipating a fresh take on the medical miracle genre.
Centering on Pompe Disease—a form of Muscular Dystropy—Extraordinary Measures finds John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) at the edge of an abyss. With his daughter Megan's life expectancy at nine years, the film begins by showing John rushing to get to her eighth birthday party. Given that her six-year-old brother Patrick is worse off physically than she, the family knows that they don’t have much time left together. Crowley scours the internet and finds that one man has been doing promising work in the field of curing the disease. The brilliant Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) has discovered a way to enhance the enzyme patients need to break down glycogen, so it enters the cells. On paper he has solved the problem, but formulas and theories are worthless without the money to manufacture and test the science. As a result, Crowley quits his job and becomes head cheerleader and CEO for Stonehill’s concept, raising the capital, making the connections, and moving forward to a tangible answer—hopefully in time to help his own family.
It falls on the filmmakers to get their audience involved in this family, and interested in the behind the scenes turmoil. And this is where the problems of the movie lie. The story itself is not sure what it wants to be. There is the tale of the Crowleys and their quest for life, but there is just as much time spent on scientific research in the world of bottom-line bureaucracy. One of these avenues needed to be chosen as the primary direction. The completed work feels more like a high school educational tool than a cinematic experience. Whereas My Sister’s Keeper was riveting—tugging at the heartstrings and portraying one family’s strength in the face of adversity, but leaving all the science and medicine as a backdrop—Vaughn and company holds the film back by trying to educate while they entertain, and falls into typical made-for-TV conventions.
Jared Harris’s Dr. Webber—why couldn’t he use his natural British accent?—hits the nail on the head by constantly reminding Crowley that he’s unable to be objective. Crowley wants to save his children with this drug so badly that he can’t look at the big picture, and see how many others it will cure, a situation reversed in the film. From the audience's viewpoint, the children are gone too often and for too long, making us forget what’s at stake as the task of creating medicine overtakes them in importance, cutting off our connection to the human element.
It is not the fault of the cast, who do some good work, Fraser is what a man in this situation should be: loving, driven, vulnerable and steadfast. Ford is great as the hot-tempered, introverted scientist; my only issue with him is that I don’t think his Stonehill quite earned his out-of-character, joyful moment at the end. And Keri Russell is the epitome of a mother who is helpless as her children wither away.
Extraordinary Measures' fails to resonate. It tries to do it all, and never reaches its potential.
Extraordinary Measures 6/10
 Brendan Fraser as "John Crowley" and Harrison Ford as "Dr. Stonehill" in CBS Films' EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Keri Russell as “Aileen Crowley” and Diego Velazquez as “Patrick Crowley” in CBS Films’ EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.