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Extraordinary Measures


None January 28th, 2010

extraordinary
Nothing is more frustrating for parents than having a sick kid. A simple cold, the risk of a P.E. class asthma attack or a few missed school days are enough to drive any parent to total distraction.

But when a child's illness is chronic and life-threatening, as it is with Pompe disease "” a rare genetic neuromuscular condition that weakens organs, namely the skeletal muscles, nerves, heart and liver "” the affliction is particularly virulent among parents.

John and Aileen Crowley have two children stricken with Pompe. John (Brendan Fraser, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra") is suit-and-tie guy for a big-name pharmaceutical company, who rushes around to spend as much time as possible with his kids, who aren't likely to live to last a decade.

During the day, mom (Keri Russell, "Bedtime Stories") takes care of them with an ever-rotating cast of day nurses. When Crowley comes home, tired and beat down from the day, he spends as much time as he can with his children before he retires to a pile of papers and late-night research into finding a cure for the genetic disease.

His search leads him to Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford, "Crossing Over"), a rough-around-the-edges research physician toiling away with little funding inside a lab at the University of Nebraska. Stonehill spends his time with beakers and dry-erase boards instead of patients for a reason: He's sort of a jerk.

Stonehill's science is solid and he is on the precipice of a breakthrough centering on an enzyme missing in patients suffering from Pompe. The combination of mad scientist and Harvard-educated businessman seems like a winner that will provide Stonehill scientific vindication and Crowley a cure for his kids, so the unlikely pair joins forces and forms Priozyme, a small biotech that will race to put a drug on the market.

Crowley moves to Nebraska to be near Stonehill and the research, spending ever-stressful weekends at home with his family. At constant debate for Crowley: Spend every free moment working toward a cure that may not happen in time, or spend that precious remaining time with his children?

Running the business side of the biotech, Crowley has to first help Stonehill prove his science to venture capitalists, then to a larger company in hopes that it will buy them out "” no small feat with a cranky, loose cannon like Stonehill, who's prone to angry outbursts and locked-door lab sessions filled with booming rock 'n' roll.

Directed by Tom Vaughan ("What Happens in Vegas"), "Extraordinary Measures" is based on a true story, but its film depiction is simplistic in its sentimentality and rather uninteresting. The trickling hourglass of the stricken kids adds palpable tension, but the rest of the conflict feels completely contrived.

Culture clash plays a big, boring role in the film, and we're constantly reminded what a madcap eccentric Stonehill is and how much he hates swimming with the current of corporate science, with its pesky rules and FDA oversight. Much of the conflict is boardroom battles between Crowley and a very serious Dr. Kent Weber (Jared Harris, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), a consummate company man and the pair's direct boss at the biotech that eventually buys them out.

"Extraordinary Measures" isn't much to see and would likely make a better read in Geeta Anand's "The Cure," where the intricacies of bringing a medication to market might be better explained with full, frustrating corporate and regulatory nuance. Not helping is the decidedly un-extraordinary acting by Fraser, who's unbelievable in agony, no matter how much he furrows his expressionless face. He should take a cue from his onscreen daughter, who never leaves her wheelchair and runs circles around Mr. "Encino Man."

Priozyme is a stand-in for Novazyme, a company founded in the late-'90s here in Oklahoma City, headed by the real John Crowley, who in 2000 left a management post at Bryston-Myers Squibb to direct efforts for an experimental cure for his two Pompe-stricken children. Much of Novazyme's research was led by Dr. William Canfield, now a researcher at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who was among a few scientists who inspired the Dr. Stonehill character. Crowley's two kids were eventually treated and their Pompe disease was stabilized, although not cured. "”Joe Wertz

 
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