A film review by Craig J. Koban January 25, 2010
2010, PG, 105 mins.
2010, PG, 105 mins.
John: Brendan Fraser / Robert: Harrison Ford / Aileen: Keri
Russell / Megan: Meredith Droeger / Patrick: Diego Velazquez /
John Jr.: Sam Hill
EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES tells
an extraordinary real life story, but with less-than-extraordinary
is the very first film that was produced by CBS Film Studios (yes, the TV
network) and it seems highly fitting: Even through its story of two very
sick children with incurable diseases and the struggles of their parents
to keep them alive is intriguing and inspirational, the resulting
film never rises above the moniker of a cheap, disposable, mediocre,
tearjerker medical melodrama.
Schmaltz like this should be delegated to the bottom-feeding movie land
of the Hallmark Channel, not a local cineplex near you.
The screenplay of the film – provided by Robert Nelson Jacobs, the Oscar nominated writer of 2000’s CHOCOLAT – is based on the book THE CURE by Geeta Anand that in turn was based on a true medical story. The medical aspect concerns two sick children that suffer from the debilitating effects of Pompe Disease (Glycogen Storage Disease Type II), a neuromuscular aliment that is estimated to occur in about 1 in 40,000-300,000 births. Babies born with the disease are often lucky to make it out of infancy (most die by the time they hit the age of two), but the children in question in the book were 5 and 4 years old when they began a radical new treatment that was designed not to cure them, but to keep them living. The parents of the two dying children – tired of their doctors frequently informing them that there is little hope to save the young ones at all – decide to take matters into their own hands and team up with a brilliant research scientist and start their own company devoted to researching potential drug treatments.
The problem: time and
money…lots of money.
This is utterly fascinating
reality based story regarding suffering children and parents sacrificing
their livelihoods to take any measures necessary to save them should have
been remarkably moving and rousing.
The advertising of EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES has been shamelessly
comparing it to THE BLIND SIDE, and they do have certain
superficial similarities. Minus the football, evangelical
parents with a heart of gold, and the story of a black inner city teen
that becomes befriended and adopted by the family to see his dreams of
becoming an NFL football player a reality, EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES is very
alike THE BLIND SIDE in the sense that it tacks on the sweetness and
sentimentality to teeth-grating levels to the point where you become less
emotionally involved and moved by the material.
both films make the cardinal blunder of never once developing
their respective afflicted youth characters with any depth or insight:
Michael Other in THE BLIND SIDE and the dying kids in EXTRAORDINARY
MEASURES are essentially figures in the background while the parental
figures in the foreground are propped up as heroes and saviors.
I have never seen children used as props this bad in a movie since
the Sarah Palin Vice-Presidential run.
The real “heroes” of EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES are these
unfortunate children that try as they will to live a “normal”
childhood while confined to ventilators and wheelchairs.
Could the script not spend a bit more time embellishing them?
Are they not worthy enough of out interest?
In the film’s introduction
we meet John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), his loving wife, (Kerri Russell),
and his children, two of which have developed Pompe Disease.
John is able to provide more than what his family needs (he is a
very affluent marketing executive whose health insurances is vital to
covering his kids’ near $40,000 month medical expenses), but no matter
how well he and his wife look out for the needs of their two sick
children, the unavoidable potential of their death looms a very dark
shadow over them.
At one point in the film – when his daughter nearly dies and his
doctor tells him to prepare for the worse in the months ahead – John
decides that enough is enough and takes proactive action: He has been
following the research of a brilliant, but eccentric and cantankerous
scientific researcher named Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who
believes that he is close to a breakthrough, but he desperately needs
funding to test his theories in order to see them through to practical
Realizing that his children do
not have much time left, John takes a very calculated gamble by quitting
his high paying marketing job and decides to go into business with
Robert to form a company in order to research the possibilities of
Robert’s radical treatment and, hopefully, see it through to successful
Unfortunately, the intrepid pair face many financial – and
personal – hurtles along the way, like, for example, convincing tough-as-nails venture capitalists to lend them the funding they need to see
Robert’s work completed before John’s kids die.
Complicating matters is the fact that the venture capitalists seem
to have both legitimate profit and medical motives, which frustrates both
John and Robert, not to mention that they also do not approve of
Robert’s bohemian lifestyle and his deeply abrasive attitude at work.
of the problems with EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES is the presence of Harrison
Ford himself, whom also
served as Executive Producer for the film. Clearly,
he saw some value in telling the story of the Crowleys, but what’s
odd is his insistence on injecting a totally fabricated character into the
mix in the form of Robert Stonehill.
The actual treatment for Pompe was developed by Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen
of Duke University, and as to why Ford (an powerful and influential
actor that has a notable
reputation for having final script and casting approval) felt the need to completely
ignore this very significant researcher and his story rubbed me the wrong
Of course, I am certain that Ford thought that his completely
fictional role of Stonehill would be a lucrative one for him, but
there are very few instances in the film where Robert never once comes off
as a compelling nor memorable creation.
Even the character’s traits seem kind of woefully derivative: He’s the rebellious, irritable, and fiercely internalized and
anti-social scientist that bows done to no one and only does things “his
drinks a lot, listens to old school rock and roll pumped up to ear
shattering levels, drives a beat up truck, likes to fish, and, most
crucially, sees himself a researcher, not a doctor. He does not really
care, per se, with dealing with kids afflicted with Pompe, but only with
Of course, one of the more inordinately predictable plot
is seeing this crappy, insufferable SOB thaw his stone cold image to the point
where he really starts to care for those sick Crowley kids as much as
Stonehill is not only completely manufactured for this film, but he
also has the unintended side effects of feeling completely manufactured as
There is also endlessly dry
medical-speak during so many scenes - regarding enzymes, combinations
of enzymes, how some enzymes work better than other enzymes, and so forth
- that the film
gets bogged down in tediousness really fast.
Again, one of the central dilemmas of the film is that it seems
more interested in the political/corporate posturing in conference rooms
than it does with the more touching and heartbreaking human story of these
tormented and ailing children.
That is not to say that the key performances are necessarily bad:
Fraser does a decent job of infusing John Crowley with the right level of
frantic desperation and resolve, and Harrison Ford (even with a poorly
realized character) does a journeyman-like job that plays up to his
stalwart strengths for efficiently underplaying his roles (although some
of his lines, like “I’m a scientist! I don’t care about money!”
seem too hammy and ho-hum for a performer of his stature).
Kerri Russell is a limitlessly appealing and charming actress (as
she displayed to massive dosages in WAITRESS), but here she has very
little to do other than to play the obligatory loving, nurturing, and
forever-standing-by-her man-no-matter-what wife role.
If you ever want to point out why some movies go out of their way
to give attractive and talented actress wretchedly underdeveloped and
marginalized roles, then look no further here.
EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES rarely seems like its worth a visit to a theatre, which is a letdown seeing as there is talent on board here, some nice performances, and an undeniably potent and involving real-life story that should be commended. Yet, the film is awash with a bland, flavorless, and insipid TV-movie-of-the-week feel, and its attempts to eek out a teary-eyed emotional response from viewers is too mechanical for its own good. And I really did not like how it entirely avoided telling the very worth story of Dr. Yuan-Tsong, whom easily would have been more compelling than Ford’s Stonehill ever is. Not only that, but the film never taps into one troubling dilemma: How in the world would poor kids (especially considering the medical health care woes in the US) ever get this revolutionary treatment?
There is a final shot in the film where John Crowley and his recovering daughter are driving in their luxurious convertible away from their million-dollar mansion, smiling without a care in the world (the title cards indicate how well the therapy has worked). All I could think about was, okay, the filthy rich of the world that have Pompe-infected kids will be just fine, but what about the other less financially secure families? Because EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES is too pedestrian and safe with the underlining material; it never develops the tenacity to hint at any larger and more problematic medical conundrums scratching for attention at the surface.
Oh...and one last thing...if I have to hear the odiously overused Eric Clapton song "Change The World" one more time in a film to cheaply inspire rousing sentiment, I am going to jab a pencil in my eye.