Thursday, June 18, 2009

Extreme Measures (1996)

Not all surgery is intended to cure.

Michael Palmer's novel owes a lot to Robin Crook's novel Coma which was filmed by Michael Crichton and uses the same hospital setting for scientific experimentation. Director Michael Apted may not have Crichton's touch for paranoid thrillers but clearly producer Elizabeth Hurley saw the property as a change of image vehicle for her then boyfriend Hugh Grant. Although here Grant only partly manages to suppress the self-conscious ticks and stammerings that he used in his cross-over hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, his apologetic body language still fits as a British doctor in an New York public hospital who stumbles across a medical conspiracy (the ole doctors playing God again). The screenplay by Tony Gilroy has Grant repeat phrases like "Let me just get this clear", as if being British gave him some language barrier, and his reaction to an obstructive laboratory attendant is amusing in his understated outrage, culminating in "You're quite a creepy person". For those who find Grant's schtick annoying, this perormance is one to be admired. The film is notable for Sarah Jessica Parker wearing an odd half-brown half-red hairdo (Madonna has a lot to answer for), Gene Hackman playing older than his real age, and the presentation of an underground world of darkness where the homeless and dispossessed live in the bowels of Grand Central Station. Although an art director's delight, one gets the feeling this is not an imaginary location. The mystery at the centre of the film involves the use of those considered to "have nothing" and making them "heroes", but this logic is on a par with the Nazi doctors who used concentration camp inmates for experimental research. And any medical facility which employs security guards who use their guns before their brains can't be good. Apted uses some tired thriller conventions like the foot caught in a railroad track with an oncoming train, the dark figure appearing in the background to see someone searching secret paperwork, and a fistfight in a descending elevator with the numbers lighting up, and Gilroy lingers so long on one plot point that we can easily guess that is a deception. The Danny Elfman score has suggestions of gothic malevolence but Apted misuses it.

Extreme Measures (1996) trailer

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