"Harrison Ford gives you hope in 'Extraordinary Measures.'" – Movie Review.

By Sean Patrick Kernan

Harrison Ford reminds me of a great athlete in the late portion of a career. Not as embarrassing or sad as Joe Namath with the Rams or Willie Mays with the Mets, but Joe Montana with the Chiefs is a good comparison. Like Montana in that late stage, Ford has lost a step but there are flashes of the old mastery of the game.



“Extraordinary Measures” has moments when the Harrison Ford we love shines through. Sadly, Ford is shuffled off screen far too often in favor of a turgid family melodrama that would be more at home on the ABC Family Channel than on the big screen.

Brendan Fraser is the star of “Extraordinary Measures” as John Crowley, a father of 3 kids, 2 of whom were born with a rare genetic disorder known as Pompe. The disease will take the kids’ lives very young which presents John with a very difficult choice. John can spend as much time with his kids, alongside his wife Aileen (Keri Russell), or he can search for a miracle.

The search will involve flying half way across the country to Nebraska where a scientist, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) has a theory that could be a cure. All that stands in there way is cash, a lot of cash, and Dr. Stonehill's cantankerous, off-putting nature. Can they raise the money, work together and cure the kids or has John made the wrong choice?

If you cannot answer that question then clearly you don't see many movies. This isn't a spoiler; the movie is based on a true story. Reporter Geeta Anand wrote the extraordinary non-fiction book “The Cure” about the real John and Aileen Crowley who did indeed risk everything to save their kids and the historic medical breakthroughs that risk led to.

There was no Dr. Stonehill however; he is one of many dramatic contrivances made by director Scott Vaughan. “Extraordinary Measures” is a movie built on melodramatic contrivances from Dr. Stonehill being based on 2 or 3 different brilliant doctors to the odd choice to change the ages of John and Aileen Crowley's children from babies to precocious pre-tweens.



In reality John and Aileen Crowley's children were 5 months and 17 months old respectively. In the film the kids are 7 and 9 and Megan Crowley, played by Meredith Droeger, is a precocious little plot device used with saccharine glee to push and manipulate audiences with her cuteness.

The story as written by Geeta Anand in “The Cure” did not need such melodramatic embellishment. “The Cure” is told with a journalistic urgency that is a rush to read. It's dramatic because the story is inherently dramatic, heart-rending and moving. The movie goes for a sappy movieness that compromises the urgent drama in favor of faux uplift and the jerking of tears.

Brendan Fraser is an actor I have liked a lot over the years but he is all wrong in “Extraordinary Measures.” With his big wet eyes and doughy physique, Fraser seems to mistake his physicality for dramatic acting. Keri Russell is capable of far more than she is given to work with here. Shuffled aside for the male bonding of Fraser and Ford, Russell cries on cue, comforts the children and is supportive and that is the extent of the role.

Harrison Ford is not great at playing second fiddle. Though he has aged he remains compelling and charismatic, more so than the younger Mr. Fraser. The scenes they share, Ford is the more interesting actor with the more complex and interesting character and Fraser suffers in comparison.

Returning to my earlier point about Ford compared to a great athlete, there was a night in Joe Montana's final year when he threw for more than 300 yards and won a game in overtime on Monday Night Football. It was Montana's last great game. Harrison Ford, I believe has that one last great game in him but “Extraordinary Measures” is not it.

There are flashes here of the roguish, grumpy charmer that we came to love all those years ago from “Star Wars” to “Indiana Jones” to “Working Girl” and “Regarding Henry.” His late career has become something of a caricature, Ford barking a line or two and going through the motions. “Extraordinary Measures” is one of those performances but the flashes give you hope. That one big game is still out there for Ford. Let's hope it arrives soon.

BYLINE:

Sean Patrick Kernan is a film critic. Check him out at: http://www.myspace.com/number1ramjamfan. Email Sean at sean@zoiksonline.com.

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