Or “Lorenzo’s Enzyme.” Like George Miller’s 1992 film, “Extraordinary Measures” is a fact-based tale of a couple that go to great lengths to prod the medical establishment—and in particular the pharmaceutical industry—to develop a cure for their children’s terminal illness. But unlike it, this picture, burdened with a by-the-numbers script from Robert Nelson Jacobs (who adapted Geeta Anand’s book), doesn’t transcend a “disease-of-the-week” quality. In fact, it plays as though the Lifetime Network were being pumped into the theatre. Unfortunately, there’s no remote to change the channel with.
Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell play John and Aileen Crowley, two of whose three children—eight-year old Megan (Meredith Droeger) and younger brother Patrick (Diego Velazquez) are victims of Pompe disease, a genetic disorder that is inevitably fatal, ordinarily before age ten. When Megan, usually a feisty girl, has a near-death episode, John rushes to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to consult elusive researcher Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), an obsessive faculty member pursuing the development of a promising enzyme that might prove a cure, but who’s hobbled by a lack of funding.
Desperate, John leaves his job to join Stonehill in setting up a biotech firm to produce the enzyme, and is later instrumental in selling the company to a larger one that can fold the research into its ongoing projects. There, however, the two men’s relationship is strained as John tries to overcome the place’s culture of competition to bring all the research factions to collaborate on finding the cure his kids so urgently require while Stonehill is shunned by colleagues his brusque manner has alienated. Needless to say, however, the two come together to achieve their common goal.
The trajectory of this story is obvious, and overcoming the predictability would require a far subtler touch than director Tom Vaughan provides. Under his heavy hand, the picture unfolds as a mawkishly earnest tearjerker that milks the suffering of children and the grief of parents on its way to a finale drenched in schmaltzy uplift. To be fair, Vaughan must have been hobbled by a production that’s barely of broadcast quality, marked by cinematography from Andrew Dunn that’s thoroughly pedestrian and a score by Andrea Guerra that emphasizes the sap quotient, down to the tinkling piano.
Vaughan’s ineptitude extends to his handling of the cast. Russell is simply wasted, reduced to a weeping cipher at the edge of the screen. But Fraser, who looks physically uncomfortable, is even more so emotionally, moving uneasily from boyish naivete to grief-stricken bathos. It’s not a pleasant sight watching him try to stretch, as sincere as the effort might be. The director is equally unsuccessful with young Droeger. Meredith is meant to be a charmingly poignant figure, but here she comes off as more than a little irritating.
And then there’s Ford. One gets the feeling that he’s doing pretty much what he wants, and what he chooses is to play—with complete abandon—the lovably gruff, cantankerous old coot with the inevitable heart of gold, as though Dr. Stonehill were Han Solo badly aged and gone to seed. He snarls and shouts—and ultimately melts, of course—like a walking cliché. The performance is even more embarrassing than the one he gave in the awful “Firewall,” which is saying quite a lot.
The ultimate problem is that despite the title, “Measures” is entirely too ordinary. You’ve seen this movie done better before, even on television.