Extraordinary Measures (review)

Weird Science

There are lots of good reasons to grumble at this overearnest melodrama. One is the moment when Brendan Fraser’s John Crowley stares deep in the eyes of his adorable little daughter and suddenly has an epiphany: If he doesn’t get the David-versus-Goliath, desperate dad-versus-monolithic medical industrial complex plot rolling soon, his adorable little daughter will die dead and stay dead for-like-ever. Another is the moment when the stick-up-their-asses, corporate-drone, white-coated Serious Scientists complain about Harrison Ford’s creative genius rogue researcher Dr. Robert Stonehill blasting his classic rock right in the lab while they trying to do Serious Science. A third might be the sequence in which we learn that it’s supereasy to raise tens of thousands of dollars in mere days in order to fund creative genius rogue research: you — or, rather, Keri Russell’s anxious-mom-to-ailing-kids Aileen Crowley — just call up people from high school you haven’t spoken to in years and ask them. It’s a snap!
But all that is simple par for the course for what is essentially a made-for-TV movie blown up for the big screen. They’re all pretty much the definition of made-for-TV movies: emotionally crude, impassioned in a self-righteous way about things that no sane person wouldn’t be impassioned about. Of course it’s awful that some children die too young of diseases that we can’t cure. (And we didn’t need cute-as-a-button Brendan Fraser to tell us that!) Of course those assholes in Big Pharma are all about the money. (And we didn’t need charming crank Harrison Ford to tell us that!) But Extraordinary Measures is just asking for trouble from the likes of me when it bashes science itself.

For Extraordinary Measures is to science what Erin Brockovich was to the law (in fact, the same producers made both films). Professionals? We don’t need no stinkin’ professionals! Professionals aren’t to be trusted: they’re cold and uncaring, and all their stupid professional rules only get in the way of getting things done. You can tell this was not just an accidental side effect but the impetus for telling this inspired-by-fact story in the first place: the nonfiction book by Geeta Anand that it is based upon is entitled The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million — and Bucked the Medical Establishment — in a Quest to Save His Children [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.].

Crowley — a Big Pharma marketing exec, in fact, at least in the movie — had to buck the medical establishment, you see, because the medical establishment did not care that his kids Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez) were on death’s doorstep thanks to a form of muscular dystrophy called Pompe disease. Oh, there was ongoing research into the disease, but it wasn’t moving fast enough. And it wasn’t moving fast enough because — obviously! — those doing the research didn’t know precisely what was a stake. They didn’t know, apparently, that even though the ailment they were trying to find a cure for generally kills before the age of nine, small cute fluffy babies were at stake. The scientist types were too objective.

This is why we live in a culture in which a significant portion of the population can deny evolution and global warming: because our movies tell us, with the same faux populist faux cheer that we are informed that there’s no crying in baseball that there’s no place for objectivity in science.

Scriptwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, The Shipping News) and director Tom Vaughan must believe this is the most important thing they have to tell us with their movie, because there’s certainly nothing else here. There’s no real drama, not with the ending a foregone conclusion — there’d be no book and movie if it weren’t — and only about two smidgens of moments in which Fraser (Inkheart, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) and Ford (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hollywood Homicide) are allowed to interact like two people instead of two caricatures — and poor Keri Russell (Bedtime Stories, August Rush) doesn’t get any. There’s no suspense in the plot, which involves Crowley setting up a biotech company with Stonehill (who has been doing some promising but strictly theoretical research into Pompe) in a race to find the cure his children need. Which results in, of course, their biotech startup getting bought out by Big Pharma. Which is awesome for setting up slick-suit-wearing heartless bastards as the bad guys, even though they make points that would be excellent and accurate in the real world, points about the things Crowley and Stonehill simply cannot do if they want to find this cure. Things having to do with conflicts of interest that could jeopardize all their work, never mind all the distractions that a passionate, personal involvement in something as methodical and precise as science can cause. (You know, the enzymes don’t care who’s dying, and they are not moved by emotional appeals.) The heartless bastard corp-villains are right, but they’re still the bad guys in this bizarro alternate version of reality.

Look: you’ve got to know how egregious this is if I’m defending slick-suit-wearing heartless bastard corporate drones. Just because it’s a shark telling you the water is wet doesn’t mean the shark is wrong.

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