Grant can handle 'Extreme Measures' Review: The usually bumbling but likable British actor is right at home in a medical thriller.

September 27, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Extreme Measures," a new medical thriller with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman as doctors with differing views on medical ethics, is an episode of "Beauty and the Beast" grafted onto an episode of "ER" as directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Not a bad pedigree at all.

From "ER," the film gets its setting: the emergency room at a big-city hospital. From "Beauty and the Beast," it gets its most evocative sequence, a tour of a secret underground world carved out by New York street people. From Hitchcock, it gets its central conceit: an ordinary, innocent man drawn into extraordinary, dangerous circumstances.

Grant plays Guy Lathan, a British-trained emergency room doctor with one seriously strange patient: a bald man, found running naked through the streets, who can barely talk (he keeps muttering something about "the room" and a guy named Teddy Dolson) and exhibits symptoms no one's ever seen before.

The guy dies, and normally that would be the end of it. But Lathan smells something. At first he's just curious to know what killed him. But then, as everyone seems bent on keeping him from nosing around, Lathan begins to smell something a lot more foul.

That something -- and we find this out long before Lathan does -- is Lawrence Myrick (Hackman, in the sort of smugly superior role he should have patented), a brilliant neurosurgeon who's convinced he can repair severed spinal cords, but not if he has to continue experimenting with rats. Surrounding himself with dedicated sycophants (including David Morse of TV's "St. Elsewhere," menacing to the nth power as Myrick's hired gun), he snatches homeless men off the streets and uses them for his experiments.

Obviously, he's not too happy when Lathan starts asking questions. Thus, the race is joined: Can Lathan figure out what's going on before Myrick shuts him up permanently?

Sarah Jessica Parker is also along for the ride, as a nurse Lathan turns to when the going gets especially rough. But this film is essentially a one-man show, and Grant is surprisingly good in a role far removed from the earnest, bumbling Brit of "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Like Jimmy Stewart, possibly the best of Hitchcock's leading men, Grant never seems more than an ordinary guy trapped in a world he never dreamed existed (think of Stewart in "The Man Who Knew Too Much"). His Lathan never asked to be a hero, and he doesn't like the role much, but he does what he has to do.

Director Michael Apted ("Gorillas in the Mist," "Coal Miner's Daughter") wisely allows Grant to let a little bit of his previous film persona show through, realizing the key to his character is that the audience feel connected to, and not sorry for, him. Apted also maintains a good pace, throwing in some effective chases (the one through underground New York is a real chiller), but allowing for time to digest the film's various twists and turns.

The film was produced by Grant's girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, and that pairing brings some unavoidable, but extraneous, baggage to the film: There's a scene where Grant's character is arrested (will audiences snicker, thinking of Grant's real-life arrest for lewd behavior in Los Angeles?), and the entire role belies the refined image he's crafted in most of his other films (a measure of revenge on Hurley's part, perhaps?).

But such speculation is pointless. One doubts Hurley and Grant (who, after all, is half owner of the production company responsible for "Extreme Measures") envisioned the film as some sort of penance or in-joke. They just know a good story when they see one.

'Extreme Measures'

Starring Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman and Sarah Jessica Parker

Directed by Michael Apted

Released by Castle Rock

Rated R (language, fleeting nudity)

Sun score ***

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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