The Birthday Series – Chain Reaction (1996)
This is going to be a brief review because ‘Chain Reaction’ is just so damned mediocre. And as anyone who’s tried to review films before will know, mediocrity is the hardest thing to talk about. If a film is terrible, you can prattle on at length about all the things that make it so. If a film is brilliant, then you can hug it and kiss it and make sweet sweet love to it through words. But with a film like ‘Chain Reaction’, it just simply exists. It’s competently made, acted, directed. But there is no spark. A hilarious line from David Mamet’s ‘State and Main’ sums this movie up for me. “It lay there on the screen like my ex-wife.”
Eddie Kasalivich is a machinist working on a high level scientific project that will draw insurmountable energy from water. “One glass of water will power Chicago for weeks.” I don’t know anything about bubble fusion, but I find it hard to believe that. The research team, headed by lead scientist Alistair Barkley (Nicholas Rudall) and mysterious benefactor Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman), have almost solved it, but the system is unstable. Eddie cottons onto a sound frequency, and voila! Bubble fusion is a reality. Celebrations ensue and Eddie escorts a drunken colleague, physicist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz), home. Returning to the lab he finds Barkley murdered and the system in overload. Jumping on his motorbike he manages to outrun a massive explosion that destroys “eight city blocks”. When the FBI, lead by Agent Leon Ford (Fred Ward) find money and messages from a missing colleague, Eddie and Lily realise they are being framed. They run for it, hoping to expose the sinister corporation that are trying to steal the technology and clear their name.
‘Chain Reaction’ is obviously a result of the well-deserved success of ‘The Fugitive’. Both films were directed by Andrew Davis, and of course, both were about wrongly accused people on the run, trying to evade the authorities which are led by a man who came to doubt their innocence. Both are set in a wintry climate in and around Chicago, and both feature a scene with Neil Flynn (The Janitor on Scrubs) as a cop who points his gun at the hero. But unfortunately that’s where the similarities end.
As I said earlier, the acting is competent. Reeves, Weisz, Freeman, Ward, everyone. All competent. Even Brian Cox, who turns up half way through as one of his usual slimeball scumbags is merely competently doing a Brian Cox character. There’s nothing terrible about any of the performances, but it’s all so forgettable. Of particular annoyance is Morgan Freeman using that old trusty actors tool, ‘The Prop’. He spends the entire movie putting a cigar in his mouth, then taking it out again. And during conversation he’ll gesture with it. I’m not even sure there’s a scene where he actually smokes it. It’s all very irritating and I found myself thinking “Just smoke the damn cigar, Morgan!”
“I hope Eddie doesn’t miss the train to Auschwitz! There’s a 70% off sale!”
The competency goes for the writing and directing as well. J.F. Lawton and Michael Bortman provide a solid, uninspiring story, and Andrew Davis directs it in his usual professional manner. But I will point out that there are a number of laughable lines in the film. When Lily is drunk, she tells Eddie “So this is what being drunk feels like!” She’s got to be at least 25 years old and she’s never been drunk? She’s English. Her mothers breast milk was laced with rum and coke. And when the FBI are trying to find where the corporations headquarters is, one lackey states “It used to be a government facility, but now, according to county records, it doesn’t exist!” So let me get this straight. There’s a document that states a government facility doesn’t exist? Must’ve been a slow day at the office if some government stooge is going around documenting buildings that don’t exist. “Hmmm… an empty lot. That’s a building that doesn’t exist! I’ll just create a document and file this away on the off chance the FBI are looking for buildings that don’t exist! That’s sure to get me a promotion.”
To pad out this review, because I’m sure everyone is really enjoying it and can’t wait to read more, I’ll quickly ponder why this didn’t work when the film it so closely resembles works so brilliantly. That reason, I think, is the personal nature of the story. In ‘The Fugitive’, Harrison Ford is framed for the murder of his wife. That is something many people can relate to, and put themselves in his shoes. What would you do if you were accused of murdering a loved one? But in ‘Chain Reaction’ it’s this fantastical plot about Bubble Fusion, which doesn’t exist in real life. The story is immediately at arms length and we don’t sympathise with the innocent characters. And to paper over these cracks, Davis and the screenwriters replace it with large scale action sequences and explosions. Of course there’s many more reasons why ‘The Fugitive’ is such an immensely superior film, but that’s just one.
1996 birthday? Over! Everyone out!
For Droids a jolly good fellow!