|Written by Mel Odom|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007|
“Chain Reaction” came out in 1996, but the subject matter of the movie—a source of free energy—is as timely now as it was then. However, when first released, it didn’t make much of a splash. Despite having A-list talent, Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Fred Ward, and Rachel Weisz, the movie never performed any better than a B-grade thriller. One has to assume that only that assembly of starpower has brought the movie to a Blu-ray release.
Keanu Reeves stars as Eddie Kasalivich, a blue collar worker turned physics prodigy. As always Reeves plays his role with wide-eyed intensity. He wears the boots, jeans, and plaid shirt over T-shirt of the working class and rides a motorcycle, but you never forget that it’s Reeves playing a role. We learn that he dropped out of university the first time after blowing up a lab, but we never learn how that happened, why he walked away from school, how he got back in, or what he truly wants to do with his education. He appears to be a machinist able to make magical components, and even that’s not explained. As a thriller hero, he comes across more as a poor man’s MacGyver.
Morgan Freeman is Paul Shannon, a government-connected agent that’s probably with the Central Intelligence Agency. Freeman is an awesome actor. With Shannon, Freeman portrays a man who is still surprised by the things life offers, who is conflicted by loyalties, and yet who can maintain an ice-cold veneer to get the job done, no matter how distasteful it is or whom he has to hurt. However, the lack of background on his character again lessens the viewer’s understanding of him.
As Lily Sinclair, an English physicist, Rachel Weisz is innocent and driven. She’s effective as a woman in danger who can rise to the occasion and save herself. She’s sexy, but the viewer never forgets that she’s acting. She delivers the part, but there’s just not enough meat to the character for her to do much more then deliver lines and look good.
Brian Cox is a favorite of mine. I love him in just about everything he’s done. He was hilarious in “Super Troopers”, scary as Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter”, and threatening in “The Long Kiss Goodnight”. Here, he’s CIA agent Lyman Earl Collier, a smarmy, evil bureaucratic killer. The Virginian accent Cox affects for the movie doesn’t serve him well. It rings falsely in the ear for anyone who has spent time in the South.
Fred Ward is almost totally wasted as Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Leon Ford. Ward is another of those actors that I never tire of watching and who has a broad range. He can go pure blue collar (“Tremors”), star as a military soldier (“Invasion: Earth”), or a supernatural private eye long before Harry Dresden (“Cast A Deadly Spell”). He looks good on screen and he delivers his lines like a champ, but the character and the dialogue are pure cardboard, simply connecting the dots.
Kevin Dunn, another actor with a lot of miles and a lot of roles that people may not remember but they’ll recognize every time they see him, plays Ward’s foil.
Here’s how the movie plays out, you can sing along during the chorus if you wish: Eddie Kasalivich is part of a university physics team under Professor Alistair Barkley working on a process that will recover energy from water by breaking it down into components of hydrogen and oxygen. They intend to use hydrogen as an energy fuel. If this happens, the world will no longer be dependent on fossil fuels.
Despite the professor’s best efforts, it’s Eddie’s resourcefulness as a machinist that solves the problem with the hydrogen recovery process. Just how he’s able to do this, no one really knows. It’s understood that he does something to change the harmonic balance (whatever that is) as well as the frequencies used by the laser. You’d think the professor would come up with a solution. However, that wouldn’t leave Eddie as the go-to guy for the villains to get. This is a glaring plot point.
Wild celebration in the lab follows However, Paul Shannon, a mysterious benefactor to the whole project, isn’t as happy about the success as he should be. Viewers know immediately that a storm is on the horizon. Again, this heavy-handed plot manipulation dooms the movie to B-grade status. It never recovers.
Fast forward to the next glaring plot point. After Eddie takes Lily to Professor Barkley’s house because she’s too inebriated to drive, he returns to the research facility for his motorcycle, which he wasn’t able to take earlier. While he’s there, of course, he stumbles across the ransacked lab and the body of the professor, who has just been suffocated.
Eddie escapes the bad guys and comes within inches of dying when the hydrogen processor explodes up and takes out eight city blocks in an impressive blast that looks fantastic in high definition. Given the age of the movie, I hadn’t expected that kind of visual detail to come across on the disc. As a matter of fact, the whole movie looks great in high-def. Unfortunately, the plot and the script are pretty much paint by number.
Once Eddie has escaped, he immediately becomes the focus of a manhunt in this frame for the murder of Professor Barkley. Of course, since we need a pretty woman in danger as well, Lily also gets framed. Both of them go on the run and end up in all the usual places with all the usual people. And the FBI and the bad guys track them down. It’s all well done, but it’s all action and suspense that moviegoers have seen time and time again. Having the stars in the movie might improve the mix but you’re getting the same product you’ve had before.
The sound is good. It’s split up so the surround sound system makes the most of it. The explosions detonate through the subwoofer, and sounds during the action scenes resonate through front, center, and back speakers.
There are no special features to speak of. Theatrical trailers have been included as well as a trivia game, but it’s not enough of a reason to upgrade to the Blu-ray edition, especially if you already own the movie on DVD. This one is for collectors following the stars, who want to upgrade to high-def presentations of the stars’ movies. If you haven’t seen the movie and are just wanting some mindless entertainment for an evening, “Chain Reaction” is a good choice. It’s not too bloody, not too violent, doesn’t have any nude scenes, and no overly vulgar language. So you can watch this one with the younger set without upsetting mom.