Extreme Measures

'Coma' goes nineties. Two men burst onto the streets wearing practically nothing except plastic wristbands and saran-wrap. Obviously, the location is New York City. Something sinister, however, is afoot, as we shall discover when a N.Y. doc with an English accent watches the charts, graphs, and body parts go up and down like a frenetic rubber ball.

Hugh Grant, as Dr. Guy Luthan, appears to be an awful lot like a male version of Genevieve Bujold (e.g. has accent, works in hospital, is both concerned and suspicious). In an 'E.R.' atmosphere, he maintains himself as a surgeon full of 'Chicago' Clooney 'Hope' security and just the right touch of sensuality. Elizabeth Hurly has produced the film. Grant doesn't quite seem to know whether he should be light-hearted or serious in the opening hospital sequence, so he opts for the latter. Why not? Surgery can be fun. But when the bald man with the bouncing responses appears, he wonders what could cause such impossible reactions. Little does he know that his inability to either analyze or believe what he sees, combined with his professional curiosity, will lead him dangerously close to a web of intrigue (a sort of Mr. Marple of the medical set).

Another doctor, of greater prestige and renown, is the evil-doer involved with the odd proceedings, a man who has decided to maintain his day-job as neurologist while part-timing in the role of God. Boy, what a hippocrat! Portraying Dr. Lawrence Myrick is none other than Gene Hackman, as perfect in his performance as ever. Unfortunately, he has to deliver a speech to Grant in the last minutes of the film that not only unnecessarily details the 'intricacies' of plot to the audience, but is embarrassingly naive for the character he plays. One wonders how Hackman managed to get through the text without the assistance of a doctor.

Michael Apted, director of such notable features as 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' 'Gorillas in the Mist,' and 'Nell' creates a tense thriller with twists and turns, but this film is not quite as disturbing as it should be. Scenarist Tony Gilroy is an extremely talented writer (as he's already deftly proven with 'Dolores Claiborne'). The structure and form of this story are solidly framed and, as already stated, the tension builds well throughout, but the characters make several moves that don't always exactly fit their personalities, profession, or intelligence. For example: If the man's a doctor and he has a certain level of intelligence and he knows he's in danger, then why does he do some of the stupid things that he does? Huh? Another: The irony of friend and associate Jodie Trammel (Sarah Jessica Parker) questioning Dr. Luthan's ethics at the beginning of the film should not be lost on the attentive viewer with respect to her own actions at the end of the film. Then again, she does a second rapid-fire about-face, so who knows what to think? Not the scriptwriter, it would seem. Throw away the values and write a thriller. Maybe Tony spent too much time playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Me? I've already seen 'Coma.' Now I've seen 'Extreme Measures.' I think I'll go in for another viewing of John Frankenheimer's 'Seconds' before I climb into my hospital bed.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett