Numerous medical procedures are on view in "Extreme Measures," but none are as risky or as unsuccessful as the aesthetic transplants this decidedly odd thriller attempts.
The forced hybrid of a preposterous potboiler plot with genuine questions of medical ethics, "Extreme Measures" is weakened, not strengthened, by its strange bedfellows shenanigans. And the fact that director Michael Apted is able to put considerable realism and skill into his filmmaking merely emphasizes how out to lunch this picture's story is.
"Extreme Measures" is the first film from the production company run by actors Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley, and Grant has used the opportunity to treat himself to a change of pace. Though he doesn't have enough weight to stabilize the film when the plotting turns silly, overall he does a capable job in an unlikely role.
Grant plays Dr. Guy Luthan, a resident at New York's fictitious Grammercy Hospital who takes his turn running the place's trauma unit. Though he made his reputation on being light and charming, Grant is convincing as a steely medico who gives orders left and right when two seriously wounded men, a policeman and the crackhead who shot him, are simultaneously brought in for treatment.
It's a mark of the overly schematic nature of Tony Gilroy's script (based on the novel by Michael Palmer) that a grateful detective's casual offer to help the doctor will clearly be crucial down the line. And when nurse Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker) tells Luthan that the decision he made about patient treatment was a moral and not a medical one, we know it's not the last we'll hear about that dilemma either.
"Extreme Measures" opens with a pair of stark naked men escaping from a mysterious building. One of them ends up on Dr. Luthan's trauma room table exhibiting bizarre and inexplicable symptoms, loosely summarized as "metabolic meltdown," that no one has ever seen before. Ditto for a strange silver hospital bracelet found on the soon-to-be-dead man's wrist.
Though he's headed for a prestigious neurology fellowship at NYU, Luthan wants to know what caused the death, and his curiosity goes into overdrive when it turns out that the man's body as well as his autopsy records have mysteriously disappeared.
It's at this point we're introduced to Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Gene Hackman), a neurologist respected enough worldwide to run the United Nations. Yet it seems that the good doctor is involved in a hush-hush research project that connects to that unfortunate individual with the silver band on his wrist.
More in the dark than the audience, Luthan is unwilling to give up on his amateur detective work. The more he digs, the more bad things happen to him, and the amount of coincidence and audience manipulation involved in that equation spiral out of control into complete unbelievability. It's no wonder that Luthan's fellow doctors have difficulty crediting his story; it's hard for viewers to swallow as well.
Given this, "Extreme Measures' " belief that questions of medical ethics are one of its key components has a hollow feeling to it. Paying brief attention to interesting philosophical dilemmas is simply window dressing that contrasts badly with all the attention spent on fantastical plotting.
Similarly, what should be an asset for the film--how professionally director Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter") and cinematographer John Bailey ("Days of Heaven") have made this piece of machinery function--turns out to work to the film's disadvantage. The more plausible settings such as the hospital trauma room and subterranean Manhattan look, the more implausible the plot they house seems. It's a pity all the way around.
* MPAA rating: R, for violence, language, some nudity and graphic E.R. activity. Times guidelines: The E.R. scenes are tougher to take than usual.
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Hugh Grant: Dr. Guy Luthan
Gene Hackman: Dr. Lawrence Myrick
Sarah Jessica Parker: Jodie Trammel
David Morse: Frank Hare
Debra Monk: Dr. Judith Gruszynski
Castle Rock Entertainment presents a Simian Films production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Michael Apted. Producer Elizabeth Hurley. Executive producer Andrew Scheinman. Screenplay Tony Gilroy, based on the book by Michael Palmer. Cinematographer John Bailey. Editor Rick Shaine. Costumes Susan Lyall. Music Danny Elfman. Production design Doug Kraner. Art director Paul Denham Austerberry. Set decorator Gordon Sim. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.