Saturday 29 July 2017

Movie Review: Chain Reaction (1996)

A doltish thriller set in the world of science, Chain Reaction has an incomprehensible plot and defaults to a tiresome series of repetitive and routine chases.

In Chicago, a group of University-funded researchers are working on a new hydrogen-based power source to produce plentiful and free energy. Dr. Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman) and Dr. Alistair Barkley (Nicholas Rudall) head the project, and the team includes physicist Dr. Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz), machinist Eddie Kasalivich (Keanu Reeves) and project manager Dr. Lu Chen (Tzi Ma). When the team finally achieves a breakthrough, their warehouse headquarters is invaded and destroyed in a spectacular explosion by unknown assailants. Barkley is killed, Chen disappears, and Sinclair and Kasalivich are framed as spies for a foreign government and go on the run.

FBI Agents Ford (Fred Ward) and Doyle (Kevin Dunn) lead the investigation, but Eddie and Lily stay one step ahead of their pursuers as they try to reconnect with Shannon. Meanwhile, the secretive C-Systems Research company headed by Lyman Earl Collier (Brian Cox) emerges as a shadow organization trying to control the science behind hydrogen energy.

Directed by Andrew Davis three years after his success with The Fugitive, Chain Reaction attempts to recreate the same formula of innocents-on-the-run and fails miserably. The fault lies entirely in a lame script credited to J.F. Lawton and Michael Bortman that places the focus squarely on scientific discovery and a large-scale conspiracy, and then fails miserably to explain itself even at the most rudimentary level.

This is a film where none of the villainous actions make any sense. The murder, large-scale destruction and mayhem caused by the explosion that launches the film appears to have achieved nothing, in that the bad guys flattened half of Chicago but did not manage to steal the secrets of the technology that purportedly triggered their action. The science is reduced to a series of noisy lasers, flashing lights and violently shaking cylinders, none of it deemed worthy of any clarification. The conspiracy is hurriedly explained in vague terms about world economic collapse, but the script does not bother to reveal what the antagonists' intentions are.

Elsewhere the lack of attention to basic details is evident. Eddie and Lily are supposedly smart people on the run for the entire film and never try to change their appearance. Perhaps Reeves demanded that his flowy long hair remain untouched during the shoot. Lily is a physicist, but the unfortunate Rachel Weisz is reduced to an almost mute appendage being pulled along by Reeves as they look for the next narrow escape. Not once does she say anything remotely smart or contribute to the plot.

With an acute lack of anything resembling thoughtfulness, Chain Reaction offers a never ending series of cheap thrills. This is bad guys chasing good guys in circles for close to two hours, less a sequential reaction and more of a downward spiral of dumbness.

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