There’s a scene early in Extraordinary Measures where John Crowley, after just starting a foundation in the hopes of finding a cure to Pompe Disease, gives an impassioned speech to Dr. Robert Stonehill regarding their lack of funding and how they may have to shut down unless they can secure money from venture capitalists. Stonehill stands up to exit the room. When asked where he’s going, Stonehill replies, “I’m gonna take a crap.” That scene is the perfect summation of Extraordinary Measures, a film so bent on hiding and joking its way around its subject matter that it simply becomes a TV movie with recognizable faces.
John Crowley (Fraser) a father of three children, two of who have Pompe Disease. Pompe is a highly debilitating disease that causes extreme muscle weakness, among other symptoms. When his oldest is given about one year to live, he begins reading research papers and tracks down Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford). Stonehill believes he can cure the disease, but does not have the proper funding to test any of his theories. Crowley starts a foundation and the two, along with a team of young scientists, work around the clock in the hopes of finding a cure.
The underlying story here is an incredible one. What the film does right is explore the hard and sometimes thankless work that scientists go through in efforts to cure diseases. The scenes where Crowley and Stonehill pitch their ideas to pharmaceutical companies are interesting and offer up the business side of medicine, which more often than not is used to bring out some anger in the viewer. But everything here happens way too easily. The resolution is never in doubt, characters hopscotch across the country from scene to scene, and the true horrors of Pompe are avoided at all costs, instead covered up by one-liners.
Brendan Fraser takes a break from the big-budget family arena and turns in a mediocre performance as a dad in anguish, both over his children’s diseases and his job. He does gain sympathy from the audience, but it’s fairly easy when all of his co-workers are crass caricatures. Harrison Ford continues to baffle in his non-Indiana Jones roles. He’s an executive producer here and plays Stonehill as such a hothead that it’s beyond over-the-top. It’s not always intended as comic relief, but that’s how it always plays out. The supporting performances by the likes of Keri Russell and Courtney B. Vance are serviceable, but never elevate the material.
Extraordinary Measures is the first release from the newly minted CBS Films division, and with a little re-casting this could have easily been a Sunday night special. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, but if you’re truly desperate for some cinematic inspiration, it will get the job done. Otherwise, either wait for a rental or catch it where it should have debuted: on TV.
Studio: CBS Films
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment.
Theatrical Release: January 22, 2010
Directed by: Tom Vaughan
Written by: Robert Nelson Jacobs. Based upon the book “The Cure” by Geeta Anand.
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez