Great Lost Movies of the 90s (An Occasional Series): Bad Medicine

on December 07, 2009 by Steve Simels
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extreme measures DVD.jpgOkay, it's not really lost -- as you can see downstairs, it's available on DVD -- and it's not exactly great either, at least in the Citizen Kane or Grand Illusion sense. I think what I'm actually trying to get at is that it's really good, it's really underrated, and it kind of got dropped down the proverbial memory hole.

I'm referring, of course, to the crackling 1996 medical mystery/thriller Extreme Measures. Starring Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman, written by Tony Gilroy (more recently of deserved Michael Clayton fame) and directed by the almost always interesting Michael Apted.

The plot:

 

New York ER doc Guy Luthan (Grant) comes across a strange patient: a homeless man wearing a wristband from a hospital he doesn't know, babbling about a drug he's never heard of, and exhibiting bizarre symptoms including a wildly fluctuating heart rate. When the man dies, Luthan attempts to follow up, only to finds that the body and all records have disappeared, and his superiors warn him to drop the case. When he doesn't, he his personal and professional life are immediately upended. His home is ransacked and cocaine is planted near his bed; he's arrested and eventually fired, unable to practice medicine ever again. Desperate, he enlists the help of some other homeless men, who eventually lead him to their underground home and to a shadowy secret organization, led by Dr. Lawrence Myrick (Hackman), that conducts illegal spinal experiments on the rejects of society in an attempt to find a cure for paralysis. There's lots more, including a final shootout with the FBI, and eventually Luthan is able to clear himself and use the results of Myrick's work in his own above ground resarch; as Myrick's widow tells him, "my husband was trying to do the right thing in the wrong way."

 

Obviously, we're verging on Michael Crichton or Robin Cook paranoia territory here, and some of the film -- particularly the stuff in the secret subterranean hospital grotto -- is Gothic mummery straight out of old Universal horror flicks of the 30s. Nevertheless, strictly as a suspense flick, the whole thing works pretty damn well despite the potential for lurid overkill, and Gilroy's script (based on a far less artful potboiler novel by Michael Palmer) raises all sorts of interesting moral and ethical questions about who decides who lives and who dies, and how far we're willing to go as a society in the name of these decisions. I hardly need mention that this more than a little relevance to our current wrenching debates over health care (personally, if I ever hear the phrase "death panels" again, I am going to take a fricking hostage, but let's leave a former Vice Presidential candidate from Alaska out of this).

In any case, on top of everything else the film benefits from really terrific performances from the principals. Hackman is pretty much the Gold Standard where it comes to playing morally conflicted authoritarian types, obviously, and his Dr. Myrick manages to be both sympathetic and chilling. More surprisingly, Grant, as deliberately cast against type here as action hero Dustin Hoffman was in Outbreak, is nonetheless terrific; the usually too facile talk about him as his generation's Cary Grant actually makes a lot of sense after you've seen this.

Here's the trailer to give you an idea.

So why did this movie flop at the time? I've always assumed it's because of some lingering resentment, if that's the word, for Grant over his highly publicized encounter with a curbside LA hooker while poor Liz Hurley (who exec produced) was waiting at home. In any case, I think all concerned have suffered enough, and it's time to move on.

Bottom line is, it's a terrific film and seriously deserving of critical reappraisal. You can -- and very definitely should, then -- order Extreme Measures here.

 

Tags: Extreme Measures, Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman, Tony Gilroy, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Dustin Hoffman, Outbreak
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