Extraordinary Measures
You see, it’s a scientific fact Shia LaBeouf CAN’T be my son!

Theatrical Release Date: 01/22/2010
Director: Tom Vaughan
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Meredith Droeger, Sam M. Hall, Diego Velazquez, Jared Harris, Patrick Bauchau

If there’s one thing audiences love, it’s children. And when you take a story about sick kids, rustle up a movie icon to play the curmudgeony doctor who can save them and, best of all, base it on a true story, well then you’ve got guaranteed mass appeal. Such is the case with “Extraordinary Measures”, a film about Pompe disease and one family’s struggle to avert their children’s genetic fate.

Everyone’s favorite spaceship pilot/archaeologist/U.S. President, Harrison Ford, doesn’t get top billing here but plays the doctor mostly credited for developing an enzyme to help those suffering from the disease (I don’t consider this a spoiler because if anyone actually thought this film would end in millions of kids dying, you should be worried about more things than me telling you about a movie). Brendan “I love mummies” Fraser and Keri “shouldn’t have cut her hair on Felicity” Russell are the desperate parents who wrangle Ford’s help and as a trio, they are the backbone of the film.

Ford does fine playing a cranky old man with a heart of gold, it’s pretty much his calling card these days. Russell emits the maternal vibe quite well and seemed a good choice also. The children are nicely cast, with Meredith Droeger being the standout, an adorable little girl who provides Ford’s character with the emotional drive to push himself so hard. The supporting cast provides adequate support for everyone, with super small cameos for two of my favorites, Courtney B. Vance and Alan Ruck , thrown in for good measure. Even Brendan Fraser, who I generally can’t take seriously in dramatic roles, puts forth a decent effort for the most part (I only laughed out loud a few times).

If there’s a weak link here (and I’m giving this film the benefit of the doubt because of what it’s trying to be), it comes from the director’s chair. Apparently Tom Vaughan has never met a slow push he didn’t love and every sappy moment involves the camera creeping closer and closer to the actor whose eyes are tearing up the most. This sort of thing is so transparent and overused that if this film weren’t about actual sick kids, I’d consider making it a drinking game. I’d also have liked a bit more explanation about the family’s movements across the country as there are numerous transitions that all the key players make and the audience is given the really broad strokes (most annoying is never being given the explanation as to why the family gets a home in Portland, Oregon when the lab is in Seattle, Washington). But whatever, details aren’t important in a film that’s completely reliant on tugging on the heartstrings.

For example, in real life the man credited for finding a treatment is Dr. William Canfield, who’s based in Oklahoma. For the purposes of the film, his name was changed to Dr. Robert Stonehill and he was based in Nebraska. The switch appears to be Hollywood deciding to focus on the family’s element in the story and not worrying about changing facts for “dramatic purposes”. This drives me a little nuts however, as there must be more to this because it takes less energy to keep things as they are than to invent new people and surroundings. They also call the finished product “special medicine” rather than use some version of the drug name (Myozyme is the one that pops on the Internet most), but if I had a nickel for every time a story is changed for “dramatic purposes”, I wouldn’t need to buy lottery tickets and day dream about owning a home in California.

Basically, the film is a Lifetime movie of the week, with a big name cast and a bigger budget (thanks to Harrison Ford being the executive producer). Still, for what it is, “Extraordinary Measures” does the job so it gets a 3 out of 5. If you want a heartwarming tale about the fight to help children with disease, aren’t concerned about exceptional acting performances and like your films to be as predictable as the sun rising in the east, feel free to check this film out. Though if you’re watching your wallet, waiting for this to come out on DVD or hit a television channel isn’t going to hurt anything either.