My two year old — he’s like a walking/talking halo of perfection. Seriously, he’s curly blond hair and blue eyes attached to 36 inches of awesome sauce. He’s brilliant, too. He could recite the alphabet before he was 18 months old; he can count to 16; and he already makes these logical connections that completely astound me. Right now, he’s in a pretend phase — he wakes up each morning as a different character. Three days ago, he was Harold of the Purple Crayon fame, and wouldn’t answer to any other name. Two days ago, he was Wild Thing, and his mother was Max; this morning, when he woke up, he was the dish, and my wife was the spoon. I kid you not. He’s also seriously into tunes. He loves Irish ballads and The Beatles, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a two-year-old kid belt out “Hard Day’s Night” — ‘It’s been a haaaaard day’s night, and I’ve been workiiiiing like a daaaawg.” I just want to eat the kid up. He does something two or three times a day that just absolutely floors me.
The point I’m getting at is is: Subjectively speaking, Extraordinary Measures should’ve been the sort of bullshit sentimental flick that could’ve manipulated me into a curly ball of fetalness. It’s a cancer-kid movie, and historically, I don’t care how bad a cancer-kid movie is, there’s at least a cheap moment or two that punches me in the throat. If you’re a blathering Dad who fawns all over his kid like he’s the next coming of Elvis Costello, Dale Murphy, and Alexander Fleming, then it doesn’t take much to yank the tears right out of your skull and kick you in the sternum, even if you can recognize, objectively speaking, that you’re being hosed by some cheap manipulative studio hackery.
But man alive: Extraordinary Measures falls on its ass in every conceivable manner. If you can’t even pounce on your vulnerable target audience with some lousy heart-string tugging contrivance, then you fail at life. Adoring parents are suckers for this crap, and Tom Vaughan (What Happens in Vegas?) can’t even get the cheap shots right. It’s like mowing down a jaywalking geriatric old blue hair with an SUV and missing. How fucking incompetent do you have to be to completely miss a point blank kill-shot when you’re standing six-inches away from a coma patient?
Tom Vaughan incompetent, apparently.
Hell, Extraordinary Measures isn’t even the crassly pathetic human drama that the trailers portend. Yes — there are two kids with an incurable form of muscular dystrophy, but their story only bookends the meat of the movie. The real story here is about two men — the businessman, John Crowely (Brendan Fraser) and the scientist, Dr. Stonehill (Harrison Ford) — trying to rapidly bring a pharmaceutical solution to the disease to market. It’s about raising capitol, finding wealthy partners, navigating the corporate bureaucracy, and meeting the demands of the FDA all the while dealing with their own interpersonal conflict. Extraordinary Measures is less a kid-with-cancer movie, and more a series of dull meetings, where the scientist attempts to sell his medical theory while the businessman aims to keep the venture capitalists happy. How’s that for a compelling movie?
Crowley and his wife, Aileen (a wasted Keri Russell), have two children with a rare genetic disease and only a short time to live. Instead of sitting idly by and watching his kids fade into the great blue yonder, Crowley decides to seek the assistance of an eccentric academic, Dr. Robert Stonehill, who has done considerable research on the disease. The first step is raising seed money; the second step is to find some venture capitalist; and the third to sell to a corporate entity with even more money. During the entire process, Stonehill is also working on the “special pill,” which he does by standing in front of a eraser board and drawing nonsensical equations on it while listening to classic rock music. Besides the first and last 10 minutes of the movie, the kids — and Aileen — are mostly pushed to the background of the story, except for the occasional maudlin scene at a roller rink or the fair, to remind us that they not only still exist, but their condition is getting worse.
It’s kind of a cold dispassionate movie, to be honest, except when Vaughan cranks up the treacly score to remind us that we’re supposed to be feeling something. That’s made all the more difficult, however, by the fact that Brendan Fraser is one of the worst dramatic actors I’ve ever seen (when he weeps, we laugh incredulously) and Harrison Ford has only two speeds: 1) Asleep, and 2) GET OFF MY PLANE. God forbid Ford fade into the twilight of his career with some dignity; he’s instead lowered himself to big-screen Lifetime movies, and it’s not even good for a Lifetime movie, at that. This is some bad WEtv bullshit. It’s dreadful. It’s ineffective. And most of all, it’s boring.
Lookit: You gotta hand it to those wily Hollywood studios, at least. They’ve hit reset on the new decade, and each week, they trot out another new competitor for worst movie of the tens. The best two studio efforts this January (Daybreakers and The Book of Eli) were C+ efforts at best, but if they keep peddling movies like Leap Year, The Spy Next Door, and Extraordinary Measures, we’re going to have to recalibrate our expectations. At this rate, by June, Sex and the City 2 is going to feel like a legitimate Oscar contender. They’re savvy motherfuckers — if they keep throwing us the eephus, when we finally see a 64 mph fastball, we’re going to be knocked on our asses.