Wednesday, September 26, 2012

As "Extreme" As "Pretty Good" Can Get: "Extreme Measures" (1996)

Michael Apted directs a surprisingly good suspenser, although not a perfect film.

Charismatic Guy (Hugh Grant) is a capable and popular doctor in a New York City emergency room. He has just won a fellowship to New York University, and is spending his time treating gun shot wounds and flirting with nurse Jodie (Sarah Jessica Parker). One night, a mysterious patient comes in, with strange chart readings and blood pressure and pulse counts that vary wildly from second to second. The man dies, and Guy looks into the man's background.

The viewer knows that the man has just escaped from a secret location with another man, both pursued by FBI agent Hare (David Morse) and NYC police officer Burke (Bill Nunn). Burke and Hare...get it? Guy begins putting clues together about the escapees, while being tailed by Burke and Hare, and trusting all the wrong people. The closer Guy gets to the truth, the more ruthless the conspirators are at stopping him.

While considered a knock-off of "Coma," and other medical thrillers when it first came out, I found "Extreme Measures" to be very watchable. Grant is fantastic as Guy, bringing charm and humor to a role that would have been action hero fodder with any other actor (try imagining Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone in the role). Grant humanizes Guy well. Gene Hackman is the obvious villain here, a role he seems to sleepwalk through. Sarah Jessica Parker's performance seems to get better as the film progresses. Her only emotional output in the beginning of the film is an arched eyebrow. The Burke and Hare characters are not badly played, but badly written. They are driven men, but after their motives for finding the escaped patient and Guy are revealed, their murderous acts cancel any sympathy the viewer might have for them.

Although the script and some of the performances do have problems, director Michael Apted more than makes up for the shortcomings with flair. From swooping aerial shots of New York City, to some well choreographed fight and chase scenes, his direction is very confident. There is plenty of suspense to burn, especially in the final scenes, but also in more quiet moments, like Guy's diagnosis in Riverside Hospital.

"Extreme Measures" is a passable time thriller, with enough happening to entertain. (* * * *) out of five stars.