Even with the star wattage of Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, Extraordinary Measures feels like a movie better suited for the small screen. The irony that this is a CBS Films presentation should be lost on no one.
It’s always a tricky matter to throw stones at true-life, feel-good stories, and Extraordinary Measures certainly falls into that category. John Crowley has a great story to tell, one that is truly inspirational. He walked out on a lucrative job in corporate America in order to focus on raising funds to help find a cure for Pompe, a form of muscular dystrophy. His interest is personal; two of his three children have the disease.
Crowley’s seemingly reckless maneuver was driven by a very real sense of urgency. At the time, the lifespan for children with Pompe tended to be around 9 years. His daughter, Megan, was 8.
Via his own obsessive research, Crowley stumbled upon the work of a doctor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Robert Stonehill. A cantankerous, crotchety character whose work never had the funding to go from theory to reality, Stonehill is a fairly self-absorbed, inconsiderate quack with a penchant for playing classic rock at high volume while mulling over the intricacies of his scientific calculations. He’s a walking, talking contradiction in disciplines.
As the very real John Crowley (portrayed by Brendan Fraser in the movie) commented while on the red carpet at the Denver premier of Extraordinary Measures, Stonehill as presented in the movie — and brought to life by none other than Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford — is a composite of the quirks and mannerisms of a number of doctors he worked with while in pursuit of a cure.
Frustrated with his inability to get a hold of Stonehill via long distance in order to discuss his research, Crowley jets off to Lincoln, Nebraska, for a face-to-face visit. The good doctor ultimately advises Crowely to go back home to Oregon and spend his time wisely, with his children, while he still can.
Obstinate and cantankerous in his own way, Crowley dreams up the Pompe Foundation for Children on the spot and promises Stonehill $500,000 to fund his work and take it from the lab to more tangible uses.
That makes for an interesting topic of conversation when Crowley returns home to his wife, having to explain away not only the hows and whys of putting his job in jeopardy with his spur-of-the-moment flight, but also the need to raise a whole bunch of money really fast.
This is a movie, though, and Aileen Crowley (Keri Russell, Waitress), John’s wife, takes things in stride and off they go to raise money, network, and make some medical magic happen. No doubt a good portion of the story’s been toned down and whitewashed in order to form a linear, inspirational narrative.
And that’s the movie’s biggest downfall. It’s focused strictly on the classic insurmountable challenge and the man who dares tackle it, with very little attention paid to the collateral damage that naturally follows bold actions. It’s all too clean and tidy, particular when that gamble pays off in such big dividends, the Crowleys endure the shameful pain of having to move into a huge mansion in suburban Seattle when they relocate the family.
It’s much too clean, much too tidy. Even if it is reality, a lot of what happens in Extraordinary Measures doesn’t make for a compelling story of sacrifice and determination. Even when the children’s health starts to decline, there’s no real sense of urgency. It’s as if the movie’s been drowned in NyQuil and is too numb to be more daring and challenging.
The cast deserves more to work with. Brendan Fraser is his usual likeable self. And Harrison Ford proves he’s more than willing to work without a fedora; this time he even seems to channel Clint Eastwood’s “Get off my lawn” when he barks out, “Get out of my lab!”
Throw in Keri Russell and her grounded portrayal of Mrs. Crowley and Jared Harris ( The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as a particularly grating corporate type who focuses on the bottom line, ob
Director Tom Vaughan ( What Happens in Vegas) brings no innovation to the material. Relying strictly on flat, straight-up drama, the end result is a flat, straight-up movie that could’ve used some flair along the lines of A Beautiful Mind to present the science of the miracle at work against extraordinary odds. Or maybe even an animated schematic along the lines of the visuals used in explaining the attacks on those Death Stars Ford knows so well. In a movie about medical miracles, why not display a little more filmmaking moxy?