Special Photo: CBS Films. Harrison Ford, left, and Brendan Fraser star in "Extraordinary Measures."
Extraordinary Measures (PG)
2 1/2 stars out of 4
"Extraordinary Measures" is the first theatrical release from the newly formed subsidiary of the CBS broadcast network. The first frame seen is a variation of the network's iconic "eye" logo and the change is so slight, you'll suspect you're about to watch a made-for-TV movie. When it's over, your suspicions will be confirmed.
Except for the multiple use of a popular four-letter-word by co-star Harrison Ford, everything about the disease-of-the-week movie is custom-made for mass small-screen consumption. Produced to fit perfectly with commercials down the road, each seven-minute segment is its own mini-film. The problem-conflict-resolution blueprint is strictly adhered to and all of it is punctuated with a swelling and intrusive backing score.
As predictable and unchallenging as it may be, "Extraordinary Measures" is worth the investment of money and time by anyone who wants to know more about what goes on behind the scenes regarding our country's health care system.
The movie includes two wholly original and brutally candid scenes that point out health care is a business and as much as people would love a cure for every malady known to man, the cost of creating and marketing a drug is ultimately determined by its eventual profitability, or lack thereof. Luckily for most, the people making these crucial decisions are (for the time being) scientists and doctors, not uniformed laymen, bean counters or unqualified bureaucrats.
The ailment in question here is Pompe (pronounced pom-pay, like the city) Disease, a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that affects about one in 100,000 people, mostly children. The odds of having two children in the same family afflicted with Pompe are virtually incalculable, but that's the case for John (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen Crowley (Keri Russell).
Because John's a big wheel at Bristol-Myers, his employer's insurance company picks up the $40,000 per month tab for child care. John spends most of his free time (and a lot of the company's) researching medical reports written by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford), a Nebraska biochemist. Stonehill's theory of enzyme replacement won't cure Pompe, but it will stop its progression and in some cases, reverse its symptoms. The funding for Stonehill's research is severely lacking, something that John is dead set on remedying.
Despite their shared common interest, the hang-dog John and Alpha-male Stonehill clash immediately and for the duration and provide the basis for most of the "drama." This type of role is nothing new for Ford. We've seen it in "The Fugitive," "Air Force One" and "Firewall" just to name a few. Stonehill's lack of empathy and aloof bedside manner is also something of a turnoff.
It's the exact opposite for Fraser. Whether in dramas or action-comedies, Fraser's strong suit has always been his animated presence and emotional range, both of which are stifled and muted here. Only once does his character show the type of pain a parent in this situation would be going through.
Picking up the thespian slack for the entire cast is Meredith Droeger as the 8-year-old wheelchair-bound Megan. Spritely without being overbearing, cute without trying too hard and serious without being maudlin, Droeger brings an adult's level of maturity to the role and commands our attention every time she's on-screen.
If you're an easy sell when it comes to this sort of story and don't care if you can figure out the ending before the opening credits are over, you'll like it more than most. If you find the health care issue distracting and bothersome and would prefer to watch movies where stuff blows up on screen, you can wait for the DVD or what will almost assuredly be a broadcast premiere sometime in the not-so-distant future on CBS. (CBS Films)