Familiarity factor can't stop `Chill'

Review: Action-adventure movie formula is in place, but the explosive combo of Gooding and Ulrich blows right past the cliches.

September 01, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

The discerning filmgoer may have to cross a lot of personal boundaries to plop down into a seat in a theater where "Chill Factor" is playing, but the movie works harder than most to make it worth the effort.

In large measure, the reason "Chill Factor" labors so valiantly is that it has so much of the baggage of familiarity to overcome.

"Chill Factor" is yet another movie that throws men of differing races and backgrounds -- namely Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich -- into a potentially cataclysmic situation and forces them to not only work together against seeming impossible odds, but actually like each other.

In this case, Ulrich, a ne'er-do-well counterman at a Montana diner, and Gooding, an erstwhile ice cream delivery man, have to get a lethal frozen chemical substance, code-named "Elvis," to a U.S. military base before it reaches 50 degrees and kills millions.

Now, if all this sounds like a page right out of, say, "Speed," where a bomb on a bus was rigged to trigger if the vehicle's speed fell below 50 mph, that's not by accident.

Ulrich, indeed, has that kind of vague, Keanu Reeves-like presence about him and the race to avoid a nice round number that will put lives in peril is an engrossing one, albeit a familiar one.

Still, it's the performances of Ulrich and Gooding, in particular, that lift "Chill Factor" out of the derivative. Gooding possesses so much boundless energy that he practically dares you not to care, not to get involved, not to root for his success.

Of course, no film of this genre would work without a bad guy of considerable heft, and "Chill Factor" has one in Peter Firth as the disgraced former military man who plans to kidnap "Elvis" and hold the world up for ransom.

Firth, a Brit who earned a Tony and an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for his work in the stage and film versions of "Equus," is requisitely creepy as the villain on a mission. Firth adds a demonic component to his portrayal of Major Brynner that only bolsters the enjoyment of "Chill Factor."

Irish-born Hugh Johnson, a protege of "Blade Runner" director Ridley Scott, makes his directorial debut with "Chill Factor," and it's obvious that he's learned a few things from his teacher about how to make an entertaining movie, even if it does feel like you've been down this road before.

`Chill Factor'

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Peter Firth, David Paymer, Hudson Leick

Directed by Hugh Johnson

Released by Warner Bros. and Morgan Creek Films

Rated R (violence, language)

Running time: 100 minutes

Sun score: *** (3 STARS)

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