1996, PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Andrew Davis. Starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn, Brian Cox, Joanna Cassidy, Chelcie Ross.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Aug. 2, 1996
Presumably still smarting from the disastrous critical and commercial failure of his ill-conceived, would-be comedy Steal Big, Steal Little, director Andrew Davis predictably hot-footed it back to the action genre which has earned him his greatest successes, the wildly overrated Under Siege and The Fugitive. With this latest film Chain Reaction, Davis has little more on his creative mind than scoring another hit and has left nothing to chance by shamelessly copying the formula that inexplicably made The Fugitive a smash with both audiences and reviewers alike. This time, it's Keanu Reeves (instead of Harrison Ford) who's been framed for murder and is on the run. The former Speed star unconvincingly plays a role obviously tailored to suit his particular talents: that of a long-haired, motorcycle-riding student machinist who finds himself caught up in a government conspiracy after his lab is leveled by a massive explosion and his boss, a noted scientist, turns up dead. He is accompanied by a former colleague (Weisz), a pretty, wide-eyed scientist with a British accent who has also been set up, and is pursued by a couple of shadowy characters -- mysterious, cigar-smoking Morgan Freeman and fast-talking Fred Ward (who stands in for Tommy Lee Jones as the fed hot on our hero's trail). To call the story line implausible would be an understatement, but believability is really the least of the problems with J.F. Lawton and Michael Bortman's unnecessarily talky script, which is teeming with ridiculous expository dialogue (the first five minutes seem more like a random Mr. Wizard episode than a high-voltage thriller) and predictable plot twists and unpredictable plot holes. Davis' flat, lethargic direction helps matters little, as Chain Reaction lumbers gracelessly from event to event without any sense of momentum, finesse, or imagination, and it seems every new scene must kick off with a high-angle establishing shot, whether we've already been introduced to the location or not (it may seem like a minor quibble, but trust me, you'll tire of it quickly). There are a few nice special effects, and Jerry Goldsmith's score works overtime to make the rather bland proceedings a bit more exciting, but, ultimately, any movie in which even Morgan Freeman manages to give a lackluster performance can only be considered a seriously botched job.