Medical drama in poor condition

Harrison Ford is sharp and cantankerous as a medical researcher, and Brendan Fraser is seriously miscast as a father with two ailing children who's desperate for a drug to save them.
Harrison Ford is sharp and cantankerous as a medical researcher, and Brendan Fraser is seriously miscast as a father with two ailing children who's desperate for a drug to save them.
Posted: January 22, 2010

Two of John Crowley's children have a fatal neuromuscular disorder, Pompe disease. Doctors tell John his son has months to live, his daughter perhaps a year. His is a Sophie's Choice. Should he spend what little time his children have left on earth with them? Or should the Bristol Myers-Squibb executive work around the clock pushing scientists and venture capitalists to produce a drug that might prolong their lives?

Such is the premise of Extraordinary Measures, inspired by a gripping true-life story and brought to the screen by Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) as a slack, well-meaning disease-of-the-week drama of the sort one might encounter on the Hallmark Channel.

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 crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl.

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