Here’s an idea: cancel all movies that would otherwise be released in January. Bag them, write them off, tell everyone involved, “Sorry, but we’re calling a moratorium on stuff that sucks, so why don’t we all just head for a cigar bar and take a load off?” Innovative thinking like that would have prevented the numbing inanity of Desperate Measures (TriStar), a thriller that seems to have been manufactured by a computer program.
A cute kid with leukemia (Joseph Cross) needs a bone-marrow transplant or else he’ll die. After a frantic database search for a compatible donor, the kid’s dad, a cop (Andy Garcia), comes up with only one candidate — an unrepentantly vicious, brilliant convicted murderer (Michael Keaton — and by the way, when did murderers get so regularly brilliant?). After reluctantly agreeing to participate, the monster is wheeled strapped, bolted, chained, and guarded to the hospital, where, nevertheless and inevitably, he manages to escape. Law-enforcement types don’t care whether the punk dies in the pursuit, of course, but Dad (and Marcia Gay Harden as the boy’s doctor) are in the ticklish moral yet hardheadedly practical position of needing the fugitive alive. Don’t shoot — until my boy is serviced! is the basic idea. And so Dad gives chase, causing plenty of people to be wounded in dramatic dustups along the way, but none to be definitively killed, which, of course, would put a crimp in audience sympathy.
The slippery (and, in case I forgot to mention, ludicrous) ethical underpinnings of Desperate Measures are, you would think, just the ticket for Barbet Schroeder, the director of Reversal of Fortune and Kiss of Death who enjoys playing with material that explores moral ambiguity (or just plain amorality) and demonstrates silky, kinky nastiness between protagonists linked by weird fate. But that Schroeder isn’t present here. Maybe he’s already at the cigar bar. Keaton broadly leers and sneers, his McDonald’s-arch eyebrows and darting tongue doing all the personality building. Garcia pleads with limpid When a Man Loves a Woman eyes when not screaming at his fellow cops to leave the escaped convict alone. Harden flails around with absolutely nothing to do — a token competent-woman character to whom no one pays attention. And the director does nothing to sharpen the tension, subvert the conventionality, or (in that interestingly, faintly creepy Schroeder way) deepen the aesthetic quality of what is otherwise meant for ER. There, this film would not even rate as the main story but would most likely be doled out as a subplot to impede the romance of Dr. Ross and Nurse Hathaway. By the time Desperate Measures degenerates into an old-fashioned car chase, you may wish you were watching General Hospital.
Although I suspect there is plenty of bone-marrow- and leukemia-related preposterousness here, my limited medical education precludes me from informed eyeball rolling. I may not be a doctor, but I know a movie with iron-poor blood when I see one. D
Desperate Measures STARRING Michael Keaton Andy Garcia RATED R 100 MINUTES