Friday January 30, 1998
Put yourself in the place of Frank Conner (Andy Garcia), San Francisco P.D. You've cornered the escaped killer Peter McCabe (Michael Keaton) in a hospital hallway. You're armed, he isn't, and he's not about to surrender. You can't kill him because he's the only person on Earth whose bone marrow can save your dying son, who's waiting for his transplant just down the hall.
What do you do?
Of course, it's easy to be calm and rational from a theater seat, but rather than let this guy and his bone marrow get away, wouldn't you at least try to shoot him in the leg, maybe blow out a knee cap, knock a couple of toes off, or otherwise disable him? After all, you're target-trained, and he's standing just 10 feet away. Bam! Game over.
A good thriller doesn't give you the opportunity to second-guess the hero and deem him a fool for his actions. And though Barbet Schroeder's "Desperate Measures" looks terrific and moves like a runaway train, it's nothing like a good thriller. It's standard-issue Hollywood chase bunk, chockablock with moments where the audience will be thinking faster and better than the characters.
The assumption made by Schroeder ("Single White Female") and screenwriter David Klass ("Kiss the Girls") is that we'll forgive Conner his confusion, and occasional reckless abandon because he's distraught over his son's illness. What could be more human?
But it doesn't work that way. The genre calls for heroes who rise to the occasion, whose senses are sharpened rather than dulled by crises. Otherwise, you begin to look around for someone else to identify with, and McCabe, recruited from solitary confinement for the bone marrow transplant, is not an option.
McCabe, who volunteers to be a donor so he can attempt an escape, is a marked departure for Keaton. When we first see him, working out in his cell in San Quentin with a De Niro-size snarl on his face, our impulse is to laugh. Buffed as Keaton has made his body, it's adorned by that same cherubic face, only it's now twisted in mimicry of a hundred prison psychos who've crossed the screen before him.
Behind the steel-tempered glare, the model for McCabe is actually the deceptively genial Hannibal Lecter, a true sociopath with a genius IQ, and the detail that goes into McCabe's escape plan gets the film off to a reasonably solid start. You may question his ability to research the blueprints of the hospital from the prison library, but bureaucracy being no sanctuary of common sense, we'll give it that much. However, once he's freed and the chase is on, the cliches mount like fallen bricks.
"Desperate Measures" goes for the extremes, pitting a man who will do anything to save his son against one who will do anything to save his own butt, with 10-year-old Matthew (Joseph Cross), a tabula rasa of innocence, between them. The answer, the filmmakers would like us to believe, cuts to the marrow of human nature: Is man basically good or evil? Will McCabe, as he casually slaughters his way through pursuing police, come to care about the boy dependent on him?
That issue might be compelling, if we could take anything else about the movie seriously. But it's no go. Though the chase eventually gets outside for traditional San Francisco road thrills, most of the action takes place in the halls, rooms and bowels of the hospital and of the adjacent prison wing.
As scores of nameless cops look for McCabe in all the wrong places, he has only two worthy rivals, Conner and oncologist Samantha Hawkins (Marcia Gay Harden), who will walk ledges and scale barbed-wire fences to get enough of McCabe's rare bone marrow to save Matthew's life.
From what we gather in all this, McCabe could have made his precious donation from his cell, which would have ended the story even before it began. No such luck.
Desperate Measures, 1998. R for violence and language. TriStar Pictures. Mandalay Entertainment presents an Eaglepoint/Schroeder/Hoffman production of a film by Barbet Schroeder. Director Barbet Schroeder. Written by David Klass. Producers Gary Foster and Lee Rich, Barbet Schroeder and Susan Hoffman. Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov. Photography Luciano Tovoli. Production design Geoffrey Kirkland. Editor Lee Percy. Costumes Gary Jones. Music Trevor Jones. Casting Howard Feuer. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Michael Keaton as Peter McCabe. Andy Garcia as Frank Conner. Brian Cox as Jeremiah Cassidy. Marcia Gay Harden as Samantha Hawkins. Eric King as Nate Oliver. Efrain Figueroa as Vargus. Joseph Cross as Matthew Conner.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times