Extreme Measures

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Michael Apted

REVIEWED: 09-25-96

Hugh Grant must be the most apologetic actor who ever lived. I have yet to see a film in which Mr. Grant's every other line does not consist of "Oh, excuse me. Pardon. Terribly sorry." Grant's latest film Extreme Measures is no exception. And, for once, he may have good reason to apologize.

Extreme Measures is your basic by-the-books medical thriller. It is directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist), produced by Mr. Grant's paramour Elizabeth Hurley and based on a novel by Michael Palmer. I'm sure Ms. Hurley thumbed through the paperback in an airport somewhere and thought "Well, this is a ripping good yarn." While Extreme Measures would have made for a fine, if forgettable, made-for-TV movie, it fails to hold much punch up on the big screen.

Mr. Grant stars as Guy Luthan, a beleaguered medico at a low rent NYC hospital. When a homeless man shows up and promptly kicks the bucket under some mysterious circumstances, Guy's inquisitive nature kicks in, forcing him to investigate. Before you can say "massive cover-up," the body disappears from the morgue, hospital records start getting erased and our hero senses a major conspiracy.

Despite the hour and a half that Grant spends running from guys with guns and digging through musty old hospital records, it isn't very hard to puzzle through what's going on here. Turns out that highbrow medical researcher Gene Hackman is kidnapping homeless men from the hospital and using them as guinea pigs in his clandestine medical experiments. Sarah Jessica Parker shows up as a possible love interest, Grant gets chased through the subway a couple times and eventually we have our big showdown in the elevator (of all places) of a big nasty biomedical corporation.

This all would have made for a serviceable medical thriller if we hadn't all seen Coma on late night TV about a dozen times. Extreme Measures author Michael Palmer has made a career out of being a cheapjack version of Coma author Robin Cook (himself a cheapjack version of Andromeda Strain author Michael Crichton). It has been almost 20 years since Cook's most famous late - '70s hospital shocker came out, though, so maybe everyone involved with this film thought we'd have forgotten by now. Sorry, guys.

Director Apted (who really deserves meatier material than this) directs with a certain amount of gritty authenticity but doesn't really seem to be trying very hard during the film's few "thriller" scenes. Hugh Grant--despite his incessant mincing--is functional as the put-upon doctor. Parker doesn't really get to do anything (perhaps Ms. Hurley didn't want any hanky panky on her set). And Gene Hackman is reduced to a couple dreary scenes of speechifying--every "for the greater good" word of which we've heard a million times before.

The only tension Extreme Measures manages to generate comes from some seemingly ill-conceived moments littering the script. Several discussions of doctors euthanizing patients seem like delicate subject matter, considering Dr. Jack Kevorkian is currently making a career of it in the Midwest. And the movie's central plot device seems like the worst case of bad timing. I found the idea of evil docs committing murder in order to find a cure for paraplegics downright creepy. Especially considering America's increased understanding of spinal cord injuries in the wake of Christopher Reeves' accident.

Come to think of it, maybe everyone involved in this film should be apologizing.

--Devin D. O'Leary

Capsule Reviews
Extreme Measures

Other Films by Michael Apted
Class Action
Nell
The World is Not Enough

Film Vault Suggested Links
Devil in a Blue Dress
Experiment in Terror
Fear in the Night

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