Extraordinary Measures is based on a true story that probably made an excellent newspaper feature-- businessman father takes huge risks to find a drug to treat his terminally ill kids. But to get to that triumphant photo of family unit still intact, there was a lot of crucial work to get there-- crucial, boring work that makes up the bulk of Extraordinary Measures, one of the most tedious non-arthouse films I have ever sat through. It is being sold as a heartwarming family film about hope and devotion, but don't be fooled: this is a movie about men in suits and lab coats yelling at each other in offices, with shots of beatific children sprinkled in to jar you and your tear ducts awake.
Directed by Tom Vaughn, who made the screechy and abysmal comedy What Happens in Vegas, Extraordinary Measures is besieged by bad acting and terrible writing along with a story that takes absolutely forever to get anywhere meaningful. We start off with the Crowley family, which is all well and good-- John (Brendan Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) have one healthy kid and two sick ones, 8-year-old Megan (Meredith Droeger) who is a normal kid except for the wheelchair and breathing tube, and 6-year-old Patrick, who is either very, very sick or no one remembered to write him a personality.
They're a family clearly experienced in taking care of sick kids, and on some level resigned to the fact that both children will likely die of Pompe's Disease before their 10th birthdays, but when Megan has a health scare John snaps, and sets off to Nebraska to find the only man with something resembling a theory for treatment. That man turns out to be Dr. Bob Stonehill, a.k.a. Harrison Ford in full-on crank mode. Bob throws out all kinds of reasons his research can't be completed-- there's no money! there's no evidence it'll work!-- while John looks at him all watery-eyed until the two crazily decide to go into business together to solve the thing anyway.
What follows is a long, monotonous series of scenes in which Bob and John put on suits to get money from people, get frustrated and yell at each other; find funding and get a lab, get frustrated and yell at each other and their lab assistants; wind up working for a gigantic pharmaceutical company, get frustrated and yell at whoever's left, ad nauseam. There's no narrative drive to the proceedings whatsoever, and given how much paperwork and corporate approval is involved, you start to wonder you, alongside with these do-gooders, will be trapped in this bureaucratic hell forever.
The film also asks us to side with John as the iconoclast, running a biotech company with no medical background and constantly imploring the science professionals to see beyond their professional objectivity and look in the eye the kids suffering from the disease they're researching. At one point he gathers sick kids from all over the country to meet the researchers, and when one stuffed shirt tells him he can't get medication for his kids while also being an exec at the company, John calls the guy heartless. I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure objectivity became a pillar of medical research for a reason, and that a guy like John would be viewed as a nuisance by any actual professionals. The work John accomplished was amazing, clearly, but Extraordinary Measures makes it look as if he, not the researchers actually coming up with the drug treatment, is the single-handed savior of all those sick kids.
The only relief from the tedium of Fraser's teary eyes and endless paper-scribbing montages are unintentionally hilarious lines like "I don't care about money, I'm a scientist!" or Ford's frequent temper tantrums, in which he goes from a good-natured Han Solo crank to full-on jerk. Because he listens to rock music in the lab room and tears up a bit at the sight of kids getting healthier, we're supposed to root for his and John's friendship, but Ford's incarnation of Stonehill is a pretty nasty guy to spend time with.
Bottom line, even moviegoers with a soft spot for uplifting family drama will have a hard time sitting through this one.