Note to TV networks: If you’re looking to break into theaters, it’s probably unwise to start out with a programmatic, by-the-book TV movie that implies your new theatrical-film imprint will be playing things safe and bland. (Or alternately, that you can’t see past the stereotyped version of your own bailiwick.) Unfortunately, this advice comes too late for the new subsidiary CBS Films, which is launching its theatrical endeavors with the disease-of-the-week drama Extraordinary Measures. Loosely inspired by Geeta Anand’s book The Cure, it follows the story of real-life father John Crowley (played by Brendan Fraser), who quit his finance-sector job and founded a charity and a biotech firm in an attempt to cure a rare genetic disorder in time to save his dying children. The film closely follows the pattern of 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil, but with fewer filmmaking risks, visceral emotions, and colorful, outsized characters.
The exception to that last comes in the form of Extraordinary Measures executive producer Harrison Ford, co-starring as a crotchety, eccentric University Of Nebraska researcher whose theories make Crowley’s task possible, but whose recalcitrance and flakiness put up constant barriers. His antics (including temper tantrums, social obliviousness, and egocentric mayhem) give the film most of its flavor, but that’s by design: His character was wholly invented for the movie, as a foil and drama-inciter. And no wonder. Without him, it would barely be a movie. Most of the plot’s developments remain underplayed, a series of heartwarming moments and plodding procedural beats often not addressed with enough detail to register.
But even with Ford, Extraordinary Measures reads like little more than a dramatized timeline. It’s easy enough to get caught up in Crowley’s race against the clock, but the presentation leans heavily on emotional manipulation and a tear-wringing score. Fraser has little to do but look angsty and determined; Keri Russell, as his wife, is an afterthought. Ford is an entertainingly irascible scene-thief, but knowing he’s just there to spice things up throws seeds of doubt into every moment of the film, undermining and distracting from Crowley’s real-life struggles. Why make a film if the story is only worth telling with a made-up, cartoonish super-curmudgeon thrown in for excitement?