Extraordinary Measures stars Brendan Fraser, miscast as Crowley, the caring father racing against time, trading verbal punches with Harrison Ford, who is a gas as Robert Stonehill, the cranky scientist raging against pitiful government funding for research.
Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat) forces the material into the Odd Couple mold, structuring it as equal parts business thriller and medical thriller with little to say about the crisis in American health care.
The script characterizes Crowley, a biotech executive, as a people person and team player with serious salesman skills.
Stonehill (a composite of many scientists) is presented as a solitary researcher who interprets the gentlest suggestion as a vicious attack on his autonomy.
For this dynamic to work, the actors need to be of complementary temperament and equal power. This is not the case.
Fraser, stiff and visibly uncomfortable as if wearing a suit two sizes too small, is painful to watch. In the scenes where John dotes on his ailing children, Fraser looks like a quivering mass of Jell-O. And as the biotech entrepreneur who moves mountains, he looks as though he couldn't climb a hillock. When he's onscreen, time stands still, and not in a cinematic way.
Ford, mining the same vein that Clint Eastwood tapped in Gran Torino, is sharp and cantankerous, and gives this flaccid movie some muscle. Likewise excellent is Jared Harris, best known as the English bean counter on Mad Men, as a Big Pharmaceutical bean counter, and a stunning turn by Courtney B. Vance as a father whose daughters have Pompe.
With more sensitive casting, the movie would have been more dramatically effective. Still, better-matched leads could not address the unasked question at the center of the Extraordinary Measures script in which the prosperous Crowley gets even more so when he sells his biotech startup to another company.
So I'll ask the question. While I desperately prayed for a treatment that would spare the lives of the Crowley children, I couldn't help thinking: In a nation where the health-care safety net has so many gaping holes, are the only ones who get rescued the super-rich?
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl.