Desperate Measures Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

How many people have to die to save the life of one boy?

How far would you be willing to go to get what you want? That's the central question being asked in "Desperate Measures", an average thriller that pits an unyielding San Francisco cop against an equally relentless criminal.

Peter McCabe (Michael Keaton, effectively cast against type) is a dangerous multiple murderer locked away in a maximum security prison. He's attempted escape, killed several guards and fellow prisoners over the years, and must be kept in multiple restraints when out of his isolation cell. And he happens to be the only match for Matthew Conner (Joseph Cross), a nine year-old boy with leukemia in desperate need for a bone marrow transplant. The boy's father, cop Frank Conner, finds his son's potential donor by breaking into an FBI database (the FBI seems to know everything, don't they?), and personally visits McCabe to ask for his help to save Matthew's life. With what amounts to abuse of authority, Conner manages to placate McCabe's conditions and has him sent to the hospital for the operation. However, the scheming McCabe turns the situation to his advantage in a violent and clever escape from the operating room. And so the chase is on, as McCabe uses his 150+ IQ to elude the police, with Conner not too far behind. Complicating matters further are Matthew's deteriorating condition, requiring timely completion of the operation, and the swarm of police officers scouring the hospital in search of McCabe, ready to use deadly force to stop him-- an eventuality that Conner can't allow if he hopes to save his son.

Though the first impression of DM is that is an action movie, the action is sparse in this movie, save for a tense standoff in an operating room, the fiery destruction of a bridge linking two parts of the hospital, and a high-speed chase through the streets of San Francisco. Instead, DM is more of a psychological drama, with the theme of displaced loyalties at its core, a common facet in the films of John Woo. Conner finds himself caught between the mutually exclusive goals of saving his son's life, and fulfilling his obligation to his badge and his fellow officers. His desire to save the life of his son comes at a high price, to the point of allowing his fellow police officers to be shot, or placing himself between a sniper's bullet and McCabe. Similarly, McCabe is driven by his desire for freedom, but it is incompatible with the part of him that sympathizes for the boy's plight. And though director Barbet Schroeder (whose last outing was "Kiss of Death") and writer David Klass push the plausibility of the premise to its limits with the lengths that Conner is willing to go to and the paradoxical bond that the two adversaries find through the dying boy, DM manages to show just how similar these two characters are, and there is a glimmer of sophistication in these dramatic proceedings, albeit very dim.

Michael Keaton steals the show as the cold and creepy McCabe, who adds a certain degree of tension to his scenes with his portrayal of a vessel of pent-up anarchy about to explode, and it is almost worth the admission just to see him leer. On the other hand, Andy Garcia lacks the intensity in his portrayal of the morally-ambiguous cop, which further damages the believability of his character. A surprisingly mature performance is also found in Joseph Cross, who plays the prototypical 'sick kid' with a degree of distinction through some self-reflexive consideration of his own mortality. Finally, Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Matthew's doctor, and Brian Cox, as Conner's boss, manage to acquit themselves nicely in their somewhat limited roles.

Despite the few hiccups in "Desperate Measures", it was an entertaining pic, though not particularly stellar. It is a premise with promise and though it gets pushed to the point of absurdity, there is still enough going for it to make it worthwhile.

What kind of deal are you offering me now?
I can't eat it, drink it, fuck it, or fire it. Not interested.

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