(by Dustin Putman
As the first release from new distributor CBS Films, it is either an ironic or inevitable turn of events that "Extraordinary Measures" so closely resembles a made-for-television movie that Lifetime or, yes, CBS might produce. Inspired by true events, this is fairly standard disease-of-the-week material, and neither screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (2006's "Flushed Away") nor director Tom Vaughan (2008's "What Happens in Vegas") help to change that fact. Characterizations are no-nonsense and slight. The storytelling is linear and by-the-numbers. Cinematography by Andrew Dunn (2007's "Hot Rod") gets the job done, but is more workmanlike than inspired. Only a few soundtrack cuts—The Band's "The Weight," Eric Clapton's "Change the World"—stand out. The story of one man's fight to find a "special medicine" before his two afflicted children are taken by their illness, the picture avoids becoming overly mawkish until the too-cute concluding postscripts, but is never particularly affecting, either. As for the outcome, it's more or less given away by the title of the book it is based upon ("The Cure" by Geeta Anand). Article continues below
When daughter Megan (Meredith Droeger) celebrates her eighth birthday, parents John (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen Crowley (Keri Russell) are reminded of how little time she may have left to live. With Megan and six-year-old brother Patrick (Diego Velazquez) suffering from Pompe Disease, a form of muscular dystrophy that typically proves fatal before a child turns nine, John desperately turns to Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a biochemist at the University of Nebraska who he has read may have found a cure. The roadblock is money, but John and Aileen, through fundraising, manage to rustle up enough to get the research started. As John and Robert team up, find a medical corporation to partner with them, and open their own lab to begin proper testing, the clock continues to tick for a quickly deteriorating Megan and Patrick.
"Extraordinary Measures" is about as middle-of-the-road as movies come. It's not bad. It's not all that good, shown up by any number of superior films covering a similar premise (1992's "Lorenzo's Oil" and 2009's "My Sister's Keeper" instantly come to mind). The story is inspiring because it is based on truth and has a happy ending—no doubt many lives have been saved due to the ball that John Crowley got rolling—and not because the film itself quite captures those emotions. Director Tom Vaughan uses appreciable restraint—Megan and Patrick are treated as people, not as victims—but is unable to do much with a narrative that goes from point A to B to C with nary a surprise or insight to be found. The picture has such a one-track mind that it also neglects characters who should be key figures, turning the Crowley children's caregivers into extras free of development, personalities, opinions, or even a sentence of dialogue to utter.
It has gotten to the point where Brendan Fraser (2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth") has played so many goofballs and starred in so many family-oriented pictures in his career that it is difficult to take him seriously when he occasionally does a turnabout and takes on a serious role. He is adequate as John Crowley, and no more than that. As loose cannon Dr. Robert Stonehill, Harrison Ford (2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") plays the film's most intriguing character, an unorthodox scientist with two divorces under his belt, a stubborn mindset, and a love for ‘60s rock music that he insists on blasting while he works. Ford overacts the part, growling and yelling so frequently and furiously that he's like an exaggerated version of an angry Jack Ryan. Keri Russell (2008's "Bedtime Stories")—better than her role—is John's steadfast wife Aileen, a woman whose own personal struggles as a stay-at-home mom are mostly overlooked and shoved out of frame. So, too, is the effect all of this must have on eldest son John Crowley, Jr. (Sam M. Hall)—not diagnosed with Pompe—who is hardly given the time of day next to his sick siblings. The film tidily doesn't bother to broach the subject or, for that matter, pay much attention to him at all.
Keeping the viewer's attention while simultaneously becoming tedious in its familiarity and refusal to take chances from either a creative or intellectual perspective, "Extraordinary Measures" is well-meaning pabulum. At home on a lazy Sunday afternoon, one could do a lot worse than spend a couple hours in its presence. As a motion picture arriving in theaters, however, it is nothing but a noble, unspectacular TV movie that will cost audiences ten bucks a pop for the luxury of not having to sit through commercial breaks. The film is ultimately never able to overcome this burden.