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Extreme Measures Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 December 1999

Extreme Measures
Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman, Sarah Jessica Parker, David Morse, Bill Nunn, John Toles-Bey, Paul Guilfoyle, Debra Monk, David Cronenberg
release year: 1996
film rating: Two and a half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

"Extreme Measures" is a well-made, well-cast medical thriller very (VERY) much in the "Coma" vein. Hugh Grant makes as an appealing a hero in a suspense movie as he does a leading man in romantic comedies, and we're engaged by his personality from the beginning. (The movie was produced by Elizabeth Hurley, his longtime girlfriend.) Michael Apted knows how to contrast suspenseful scenes with action, taut sequences with comic ones, and maintains a tight focus on the story from beginning to end -- there are no side issues in Tony Gilroy's script at all.

But you'll forget "Extreme Measures" a day after seeing it; there's nothing new to the story, and it progresses in exactly the direction you expect. The hand of villain Gene Hackman is tipped much too early, and there are not enough complications and setbacks for our intrepid hero. The movie is well-made, but it's hollow and mechanical, a big wind-up suspense toy. And it's nothing more than that.

Grant is Dr. Hugh Lathan, an emergency room surgeon in a very busy New York hospital. He's brilliant and so promising he has been invited to join a prestigious research team at NYU.

We see two naked men escape from a mysterious building and flee into the night, pursued by men with guns. Both the fugitives escape, but one of them collapses and is taken to Lathan's emergency room. His symptoms are very strange, and he's recently had some kind of spinal surgery. He clutches Lathan's shoulder, moans "Help me!" and dies. Lathan is way beyond intrigued -- he becomes obsessed with knowing what killed this man, who operated on him, and what caused his amazing symptoms.

We, but not Lathan, soon learn that behind this is respected neurosurgeon, the great Dr. Lawrence Myrick, although it takes a while for us to learn what he's up to. Suffice it to say that he's the classic movie mad scientist: his basic motivations are benign, even saintly, but his means are brutal and murderous. Mad scientists who aren't working for the good of society, but who have come to believe the end justifies the means, are very rare.

When Myrick realizes that Lathan is going to continue his snooping, he assigns a couple of hirelings, well-played by David Morse and Bill Nunn, to deal with him. First, they search his apartment, solely to arouse the curiosity of the police -- who find the cocaine that Morse and Nunn planted. But when this doesn't get Lathan to back off, they take sterner measures.

Michael Palmer's novel may have justified this storyline, but despite his sleek skills as a director, Michael Apted simply cannot. There isn't a single surprise in the story, and that's deadly for a suspense film. The movie needed more characters, more setbacks, more twists and turns. There's really only one twist, but it comes at exactly the point the plot requires a twist, and is very clumsily set up. It involves Lathan noticing a clue on a waste basket liner.

Grant is a cool, witty actor, who combines diffidence, sex appeal and a kind of intelligent hesitancy. In a way, it's surprising to find him running through New York subway tunnels, pursued by big David Morse with his big gun and an oncoming subway train, but just as it always worked to find Cary Grant in such situations, it works very well with Grant. He's not Everyman, like Harrison Ford; paradoxically, it's his just-below-the-upper-crust sensibility and amused reserve that makes him well suited for a movie like this. I hope he does another, but I hope even more that he finds a better script.

Gene Hackman is an excellent actor, but the script here doesn't give him much room to maneuver. He has to be avuncular and almost apologetic to Grant, but cold and mean just outside Grant's hearing. That's not exactly a stretch for Hackman, and it's not exactly a personality range -- it's just an on-off switch. He has one very good scene in the movie, but it comes at the very end, as he tries to keep two inquiring cops from discovering that Grant and Morse are whaling on each other in an elevator that will arrive any moment. From where Hackman is standing, he can see the interior of the elevator, but the cops can't. He's nervous and tense but can't give the slightest hint of this to the cops; Hackman manages this tricky requirement with style and professionalism. It's too bad the rest of the movie didn't give him more to do.

Same for Sarah Jessica Parker. Except for her distinctive chin, she's almost a chameleon as an actress -- it often takes a beat or two to realize that this is Parker. Here, she's a nurse who's very slightly attracted to Lathan, but who also tends to be a bit doctrinaire and by-the-book, though later we learn she's made her own moral compromises. Again, this doesn't play out as the range of her character (though Parker works at this), but simply a device the plot requires, another on-off switch.

The movie is competent but routine, which applies to the DVD as well. The movie was handsomely photographed by John Bailey (don't even consider the "standard" side of the disc), and looks good on any home system. But there's no good reason to watch it.

more details
aspect ratio(s):
Includes both panned-and-scanned and letterboxed versions.
special features: Extras are the standard trailer, scene selections and alternate languages.
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10

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