Los Angeles Times
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Chill Factor


Wednesday September 1, 1999

     "Chill Factor" melts swiftly. As the theme-park-ride movie of the week, it jolts over Montana highways like a roller coaster loaded with thrills and spills, but don't expect a shred of credibility. If you find yourself unable to go along for this ride, it's going to seem as yet another silly, bloody and bloated Hollywood behemoth. Alongside this Warners release, "Speed," the high end of the genre, plays like a work of uncompromising realism.
     In a prologue set in 1987, Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer) is about to launch a chemical warfare experiment, code name "Elvis," on a remote South Seas island that the officer in charge, Maj. Andrew Brynner (Peter Firth), believes is both immoral and dangerous. Long at once reminds him that he does not answer to Brynner and assures him everything is safe; seconds later, the whole test goes drastically wrong, with 18 soldiers--whom Brynner had wanted to evacuate--dying hideous deaths from a substance that consumes their bodies like fire. The rap is laid on Brynner rather than Long, and 10 years in Ft. Leavenworth turns Brynner into a madman consumed with revenge.
     Segue to Jerome, Mont., where Long, still working away at "Elvis" for the Army, has found a fishing companion in Tim Mason (Skeet Ulrich), a young drifter haunted by a past tragedy who works at a local diner. After Maj. Brynner and his gang of thugs catch up with Long, the dying scientist entrusts his "Elvis" capsule with Tim, explaining that he must keep "Elvis" on ice and take it to Ft. Magruder 90 miles away. If its temperature climbs above 50 degrees it will detonate, killing all forms of life for hundreds of miles around.
     Just at this turn of events, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Arlo, a high-spirited ice cream delivery man based in Missoula, has the misfortune to arrive and wind up being pressed by Tim into providing the transportation for "Elvis." Feature-debuting director Hugh Johnson and a clutch of writers finally get the show on the road, which sets Brynner ruthlessly pursuing Tim and Arlo, who are making do with Arlo's rickety truck.
     "Chill Factor" is a typical rambunctious action comedy, although you may have difficulty in seeing the humor in a madman intent on getting hold of an ultra-lethal chemical agent to sell to the highest bidder--Brynner expects to clear a cool $100 million.
     The actors already mentioned, and numerous others, are capable, but the characters they play, heroes or villains, are too unevenly written to care about.
     Technical credits are superior, the scenery is gorgeous, but "Chill Factor," for all its virtuoso calamities, is just another demolition derby.

Chill Factor, 1999. R, for violence and language. A Warner Bros. presentation of a Morgan Creek production. Director Hugh Johnson. Producer James G. Robinson. Executive producers Jonathan A. Zimbert and Bill Bannerman. Screenplay by Drew Gitlin & Mike Cheda. Cinematographer David Gribble. Editor Pamela Power. Music Hans Zimmer and John Powell. Costumes Deborah Everton. Production designer Jeremy Conway. Art director Fredda Slavin. Set decorator Claudette Didul-Mann. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Arlo. Skeet Ulrich as Tim Mason. Peter Firth as Maj. Andrew Brynner. David Paymer as Dr. Richard Long.

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