A film review by Craig J. Koban January 25, 2010


2010, PG, 105 mins.


John: Brendan Fraser / Robert: Harrison Ford / Aileen: Keri Russell / Megan: Meredith Droeger / Patrick: Diego Velazquez / John Jr.: Sam Hill

Directed by Tom Vaughan / Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs / Based on The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million -- and Bucked the Medical Establishment -- in a Quest to Save His Children

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES tells an extraordinary real life story, but with less-than-extraordinary methods.  This 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 stuff.  Any 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.   

Furthermore, 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 human implementation.   



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 fruition.  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. 

One 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 way.   

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 way.”  He 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 the disease itself.  Of course, one of the more inordinately predictable plot developments 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 his research.   Stonehill is not only completely manufactured for this film, but he also has the unintended side effects of feeling completely manufactured as well.   

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.

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