Chain Reaction

Keanu Reeves proves a match for any Scwharzenegger or Stallone. Who needs muscle when you've got a mind? You still wind up in a tight spot if the chase is on, and it's possible (and often more interesting) to use strategy as a way of escape instead of smashing everything in sight.

After years of research, a team of scientists and technicians working in a University of Chicago lab manage to discover a method to harness the power of hydrogen from water in a way that could easily make it replace gas and oil and become a new source of clean, limitless energy. (Actually a machinist is the one responsible for accidentally discovering the one missing key to the process, in an Alexander Fleming kind of way.) But is it good for business, the equilibrium of politics and the maintenance of world power? Some scientists will never learn to watch their backs. Once the discovery is made, the lab is sabotaged in order to keep Dr. Alistair Barkley (Nicholas Rudall) from releasing the secret to the world. Did he really think 'they'd' let him? Student machinist Eddie Kasalivich (Keanu Reeves) and physicist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz) are framed quicker than you can say 'sonoluminescence' and a chain reaction begins that rumbles more fiercely than a tank full of water bubbles. They flee cross country with every imaginable federal agency in pursuit behind them and try to unravel clues that will reveal who is responsible for their predicament. In the meantime, they get to know each other better. And keep running.

The main action sequence of the film involves Reeves running up an opening bridge and one can't help but wonder if we'll get to see a dead horse hanging from the edge. No. Instead he works his way down to the lower level and escapes the madding crowd. Supposedly, he did all this stunt work himself. The insurance costs must have been stupendous. Another action sequence has Eddie and Lily escaping (once again) in an ice boat across the lake (a kind of Everglades boat that just happened to be on location). Don't you just love action thrillers? This one is lots of fun and has a more interesting and logical plot than many.

As the chase continues, the only one Eddie can turn to is his old friend and mentor Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman) who runs the organization which was responsible for funding the project. Just remember, Eddie, that even when you're on the run, calling for help is easier with a call card. Everyone seems to be out for him. They become even more convinced of his guilt when they discover a past history as an activist. Eddie is what you call 'somewhat suspect', considering he has had more than a passing relationship with bombs. Shannon knew about this, but never mentioned it to the other pursuant agencies. Why should he, it's all part of the past?

Director Andrew Davis, who has handled such actors as Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris in the past, puts Keanu on the fast path this time. A notable cast, backed up by such talents as Brian Cox, Fred Ward, and Joanna Cassidy manages to give decent performances within the confines of J.F. Lawton and Michael Bortman's script which, in its turn, gives enough meat for the actors to create interesting characters without allowing them the space to explore any great depths.

A sharp witted reporter recently said, in reflecting on the presidential election and politics in general, that the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. Chain Reaction is an enjoyable thriller that manages to cleverly unite both elements in a plot of political intrigue where the good guys are (unexpectedly?) hurled toward destruction. In other words, Oliver Stone is not the only one with a patent on conspiracy theories. In today's world, if you don't believe in conspiracies, you're not in touch with reality.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett