CUBA GOODING JR. doesn't act so much as switch himself on like human fluorescent lighting. He's juiced with so much zeal, you'd swear someone just turned on the house lights.
But all the Cuba halogen -- or is it tungsten? -- in the world can't stop "Chill Factor" from looking like what it is: an irredeemably transparent version of "Speed."
In this Don't-Go-Boom! thriller, Gooding Jr. and his screen partner, Skeet Ulrich, spend most of their time trying to keep a bomb from exploding and exchanging those cute hostilities all screen buddies are required to do.
Get this: In "Speed," a bus had to maintain a minimum of 50 mph so a bomb aboard wouldn't explode. In "Chill Factor," they have to keep the bomb cooler than 50 degrees so it won't detonate. I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome screenwriters Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda, and debuting director Hugh Johnson, to my personal, ever-expanding Movie Hall of Shamelessness and Mediocrity.
Gooding Jr. plays Arlo, an ice cream deliveryman who drops off a frozen load at a truckstop cafe in Jerome, Mont. Ulrich is Tim Mason, the short-order cook on duty, who has been saddled with an enormous responsibility.
His fishing partner who is a scientist, Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer), just staggered into the place, dying from bullet wounds. And holding a bomb that has to be kept cooler than 50 degrees or it will -- you know. This sucker has a melt-the-flesh-of-all-bystanders range of five miles. So it's really a good idea to keep it cold and get it to Fort Magruder 90 miles from here, where it can be defused. Or whatever you do to a bomb that needs to be treated like high-octane Budweiser. The Doc immediately dies. They always die after telling us just enough to start a bad movie.
Then Arlo comes in with the ice cream and a truck that can -- you know.
Add to this farce the bad guys who want the bomb. That would be Capt. Andrew Brynner (Peter Firth), your basic demented, disgruntled man in uniform who believes Uncle Sam and this country did him wrong. Well, they did. Imprisoned him for 10 years when an earlier test of said bomb blew in everyone's faces. Dr. Long, whose miscalculations were really responsible, was on that project. So Brynner stormed the research facility, determined to get the weapon and sell it to the highest bidder in Karachi or Beijing or -- you get the idea.
I will say this for those folks who just want to pay their $152.99 for two admissions, two popcorns and a coupla sodas and watch something that keeps them entertained. Thanks to the DIRECT RIPPING OFF OF "SPEED," we do have the sustained suspense of whether this thing is going to blow up or not. But there's nothing more to it than that. And let's say you've never in your life seen two people in an action movie who find themselves involuntarily teamed up, only to fight and argue all the way to the incendiary finale, then maybe you'd want to give this thing a go. Or you could go for such piquant dialogue as "WHAT THE [BLEEP] WAS THAT???"
Arlo gets to yell that one. I was tempted to yell it myself throughout the movie.
CHILL FACTOR (R, 102 minutes) -- Contains violence, obscenity and the movie "Speed." Area theaters.