Diagnosis: Predictably earnest
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Jan. 22, 2010
Harrison Ford makes a lovable curmudgeon in "Extraordinary Measures," an earnest, formulaic medical melodrama in which Indiana Jones puts down his hat and bullwhip to channel yet another beloved American archetype: the renegade scientist.
Ford plays iconoclasm to its barking, snarling hilt as medical researcher Robert Stonehill, who listens to classic rock at full volume in his Nebraska lab and grumpily refuses to answer phone calls. One of the people he has been ignoring is John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a Portland businessman who has a young son and daughter with a rare genetic disorder called Pompe disease. Through his own research, Crowley has become convinced that Stonehill holds the key to a cure and travels to the Midwestern plains to meet his would-be savior. The two men -- one a surly, arrogant outsider, the other a desperate father willing to do anything to save his kids' lives -- wind up going into the biotech business together.
From its marketing, "Extraordinary Measures" looks like an inspirational "disease of the week" movie, complete with self-righteous speeches ("Nobody's gonna tell me how to run my lab!" "I'm a scientist!") and hugs at the end. Based on a true story (Crowley really did start a multimillion-dollar company to save his children; Stonehill is a composite of the doctors who helped him), the film can't help but grip the heart and imagination, especially when the camera is trained on the two adorable, plucky children whose life-and-death struggles propel the plot.
But too often "Extraordinary Measures" gets bogged down in meetings, business plans and PowerPoint presentations. And the director, Tom Vaughan, has a tendency to underline, italicize and boldface the emotion when no such emphasis is needed. After a scene at Crowley's daughter's eighth birthday party, for example, Crowley learns that her life expectancy is nine years; Vaughan then helpfully offers a close-up of her birthday cake candle shaped like the number 8.
Fraser's diffident, blurry performance as Crowley is no match for Ford's simmering high dudgeon. But for real sparks keep a look out for Jared Harris in a supporting role that injects a mildly diverting note of corporate intrigue into an otherwise unsurprising procedural.Contains profanity and a mild suggestive moment.