1998, R, 101 min. Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Starring Andy Garcia, Michael Keaton, Brian Cox, Marcia Gay Harden, Erik King, Joseph Cross.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 30, 1998
Desperate, indeed. While the crazed implausibilities in films such as Face/Off induce a fevered delirium that's like some sweet drug, the inane plottings in movies like Desperate Measures induce something akin to a numbing catatonia: It's cinema as anesthesia. David Klass' tortured screenplay requires a suspension of disbelief that would test even the most gullible. First, you have to set aside common sense to believe that state and prison officials would agree to release a sociopathic, convicted killer for a bone marrow transplant that may save the life of the young, leukemia-stricken son of a policeman. Then you must blindly accept that the convict can execute an elaborate escape from the operating table and wind up in control of the hospital as the son's immune system deteriorates while waiting for the donor graft. And then you must swallow whole the proposition that the cop would aid and abet the escapee, shielding him from his fellow police officers, because he can't allow his son's one chance to live to be exterminated, even if it means breaking the law, destroying property, causing mayhem, and endangering the lives of innocent people. (Andy Garcia's foolhardy father in Desperate Measures is the flip side of Mel Gibson's heedless papa in last year's Ransom; while madmen dictate whether their sons live or die, one man acts recklessly out of love, while the other acts recklessly out of principle.) The pairing of Garcia and Keaton as the pursuer and pursued doesn't click from the start. Their initial meeting should have played like that of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter – a test of wits, intellect, and emotion, sharpened by a palpable tension. Instead, it comes off as sterile as the washed-out walls of the prison room in which it occurs. Although the symbiotic relationship that develops between the determined two men, by virtue of their simultaneously conflicting and converging interests, is the only thing here that's remotely intriguing, it's an angle quickly enveloped by the movie's overall improbability. As the film's pandemonium increases and policemen are shot, propane canisters explode, and a major medical care facility is under siege, one is reminded of that immortal observation uttered by Bill Murray in response to another kind of pandemonium in Tootsie: That's one nutty hospital.