CBS Films makes its debut with Extraordinary Measures, a fact-based [if compressed and composited]tale that follows a family where two of the three children have Pompe Disease [a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy] and a curmudgeonly scientist who is persuaded to move from pure research to developing a treatment for the disease.
The desperate parents are John and Aileen Crowley [Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell]; their healthy son is John Jr. [Sam Hall]; the two with Pompe are Megan [Meredith Droeger] and Patrick [Diego Velazquez], and the crusty scientist is Dr. Robert Stonehill [Harrison Ford]. Among the liberties taken with the story: Stonehill is a composite of an Asian scientist, Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his team at Duke University, and the ailing kids were really several years younger at the time the real series of events occurred [and several ears older than the average life expectancy of children born with Pompe].
When John fails to contact Stonehill – who doesn’t answer his phone messages and accidentally hangs on him by pulling the receiver cord from the phone – he reaches a point where he walks out of an important meeting at work and heads to Nebraska to introduce himself to the scientist. He promises Stonehill that he will raise half a million dollars to set up a biotech company for the purpose of bringing Stonehill’s theoretical science into the real world and, not coincidentally, create a treatment for Patrick and Megan.
Stonehill visits the Crowley’s where they present him with a cheque for just under one hundred thousand dollars and decides that they’re serious so he throws in with them – meeting and getting to know the kids, as well. From there it’s the classic case of progress, setback; progress, setback until the goal is achieved – with a couple of obstacles outside the scientific arena to add to the emotional aspect of the film.
Extraordinary Measures has its share of flaws: John and Aileen are basically desperate parents, John Jr. is scared, and Patrick and Megan are feisty; Stonehill moves from curmudgeonly to merely affectionately grumpy; the score hammers home every emotional beat with a ball peen hammer, and the one perceived villain is – except for one key moment, a relentless, officious, fiscally responsible jerk.
Fortunately, the cast performs above the material to the point where the characters feel real anyway. Even with the changes made to more easily tell the story, that – and the way the film depicts the hard, cold realities of research and development of a new drug – provides enough substance to keep the film from falling into the trap of becoming too overbearing [like, say, Lorenzo’s Oil].
While Robert Nelson Jacobs’ script could have used another pass to flesh out the characters a bit more, director Tom Vaughan and his cast make Extraordinary Measures sufficiently better than a Lifetime disease-of-the-month movie to warrant seeing it on the big screen. It’s not extraordinary, but it is good enough.
Final Grade: B-