While the relentless rain continued in Los Angeles last week, I headed out to Arclight Hollywood during one of the 700 storms to see 'Extraordinary Measures'. Normally, I am illness-squeamish and can not sit through any film whose story has a hospital or anyone who suffers from a disease. But, I decided that it is time that I desensitize myself to this problem, since it has prevented me from seeing many films. I have never seen 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Philadelphia' or 'The Doctor' due to my extreme sensitivity. I once consulted a therapist about what is deemed to be my "blood phobia", but I didn't return beyond the first session. The minute he mentioned the word "blood", I began to feel faint.

Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for 'Extraordinary Measures', the film was pretty light. It stars Brendan Fraser (who, once upon a time, attended Upper Canada College private school in Toronto), who we sometimes consider to be a Canadian compatriot, but who was actually born in Indianapolis. The film, based upon a true story, is based upon the book, of course. Lately, every film is either based upon a book or it is a re-make of something that didn't need re-making. Are we out of fresh ideas, dear Hollywood?

While the relentless rain continued in Los Angeles last week, I headed out to Arclight Hollywood during one of the 700 storms to see 'Extraordinary Measures'. Normally, I am illness-squeamish and can not sit through any film whose story has a hospital or anyone who suffers from a disease. But, I decided that it is time that I desensitize myself to this problem, since it has prevented me from seeing many films. I have never seen 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Philadelphia' or 'The Doctor' due to my extreme sensitivity. I once consulted a therapist about what is deemed to be my "blood phobia", but I didn't return beyond the first session. The minute he mentioned the word "blood", I began to feel faint.

Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for 'Extraordinary Measures', the film was pretty light. It stars Brendan Fraser (who, once upon a time, attended Upper Canada College private school in Toronto), who we sometimes consider to be a Canadian compatriot, but who was actually born in Indianapolis. The film, based upon a true story, is based upon the book, of course. Lately, every film is either based upon a book or it is a re-make of something that didn't need re-making. Are we out of fresh ideas, dear Hollywood?

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Fraser plays John Crowley, a Bristol Meyers executive and happily-married father of three. Keri Russell (back from the 'Felicity' grave) plays Aileen, his perfect wife. There is something genuinely earnest about Keri Russell's performances and that is evident here, too. She has a natural sincerity that always shines through, but then it's as if she doesn't trust herself and her performances extend into being too saccharine. She's just a bit too perfect. Fraser, however, is fairly adept at playing his role of devoted father, devoted husband and businessman. Together, the pair are a happy, loving couple, but their lives are not perfect. Two of their children are suffering from Pompe Disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder which carries with it a very short life expectancy for its unfortunate victims.

After one of John's children nearly dies from Pompe's complications, John, who is endlessly researching the disease in order to save his children, reads about Pompe research being conducted by scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (played by Harrison Ford). On a desperate whim, John flies from his hometown of Portland to Nebraska to hunt down the elusive scientist to talk to him about his discoveries. Stonehill, of course, is reclusive, private, serious and cynical, but he seems to possess the faintest glint of a deeply buried heart of gold -- the perfect Harrison Ford role, naturally. The two men meet up at a bar and discuss Dr. Robert's theory about delivering more enzyme into a child's system, so that Pompe children can live much longer lives. I'm sure the exact science is more complex than my simple synopsis, but I wasn't a good science student, so it's going to have to suffice.

'Extraordinary Measures' trailer

As can be expected, Dr. Robert lacks adequate funding at his university, saying that the university football team receives more money than his research. What to do? John tells Dr. Robert that he is starting a Pompe charity and that he can raise the necessary funds (half a million dollars) needed to make this research into a reality. And, so the fundraising begins and Dr. Robert is adequately convinced to join forces with John. In fact, Dr. Robert decides they should go into business together, start a biotech company, and forget the university altogether. With additional funding from a physician who is an old classmate of Dr. Robert's, the two begin to plug away, racing against the clock while becoming involved with a drug company.

Eventually, they are set to begin clinical trials of the treatment. And, at first, everyone is happy. But, John is told that his own children can't be involved in the testing. The drug company decides that the first round of testing must be done on babies, exclusively, since they require the least amount of enzyme, i.e. the most cost effective way in which to conduct the trials. John, who has made this his sole life's mission, having quit his job, is understandably devastated. His 8-year-old daughter isn't supposed to live longer than a year and his younger son is likely to die within the year. What can he possibly do to save his family?

The devastation of being involved in this whole process right through to fruition only to be left out of its benefits is understandably horrifically crushing. There seems to be no hope left, and John and Dr. Robert's relationship has gone sour by now, so there seems to be nowhere for John to turn. But, Dr. Robert's ego turns out to be smaller than his heart and he devises a way in which John's children could receive the treatment, but it has to be approved by the company whose chairman does not like John at all. And, beyond that, there is a conflict of interest since John is now working for the company making the enzyme.

But, you know, Hollywood lives for conflict and then resolution. Are they really going to make a film in which the lead character's children are left to die after all this focus upon the treatment?

Though I did shed some tears at the end of this film, I wouldn't recommend it very highly. It's missing the depth it needs to make it powerful. As is, it is only OK. Though the film could have yanked at our heartstrings by focusing upon the children and their unfortunate plight, it doesn't actually make them the main focus of the film. At first, I was hoping that they wouldn't be the focal point of the film, since I'd probably just cry for two hours straight, while simultaneously feeling heavily manipulated. But, as the film unfolded, I thought they should have shown more of the children and less of the relationship between John and Dr. Robert, which had so many unexpected twists and turns that it became a bit boring. Take two stubborn, single-minded and passionate men and have them working toward a common goal, but clashing just as much as they agree. At first, interesting. Eventually, boring. I'd have become more emotionally invested had I developed a closer relationship to the children.

The film does a good job, however, of revealing the hurdles that are in place when you take scientific research to drug companies and need their money. For instance, they ask questions like, "What is the expected acceptable loss?" "Acceptable loss", here, means, "How many children are we OK with losing despite treatment?" Of course, to John and Dr. Robert, that is a disgusting question. But, like it or not, drug companies are businesses and clearly businesses want to make money.

So, yeah, I sat through 'Extraordinary Measures' and shed a few tears, but I wasn't terribly enthralled or moved. In fact, what had the most powerful effect on my mood that day wasn't the film at all. It was that the sun, after a solid week of torrential rainstorms, eventually came out that afternoon.