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Extraordinary Measures, That Evening Sun

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EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES

*1/2

Had Harrison Ford spent as much time playing risk-taking actor as action hero, would he now have a mantel of awards to call his own? There was a time when the former box office behemoth would occasionally tackle a quirky character (e.g. The Mosquito Coast, Working Girl) amidst all those larger-than-life super-studs in guaranteed blockbusters, but that time is long gone, and the past decade-plus has mostly seen him wheezing away in ill-advised bombs like Firewall and K-19: The Widowmaker (the latter directed by current critical darling Kathryn Bigelow). Ford did have the opportunity to stretch when Steven Soderbergh offered him a key role in Traffic, but he inexplicably backed out and the part went to Michael Douglas instead. Now Ford turns up in a supporting role in Extraordinary Measures, and it's a good fit, probably the reason he also signed on as an executive producer.

As a grumpy, antisocial scientist who agrees to help a grieving couple (Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell) by developing a drug that will save the lives of two of their children (both inflicted with the rare Pompe disease), the aged matinee idol demonstrates that there's plenty of thespian talent left in the tank. But did he have to choose such a lame project on which to expend his energies? Extraordinary Measures is merely ordinary in every way, an earnest but plodding and unimaginative melodrama so flatly realized that it's hard to imagine there will be anything in the theater except dry eyes. Even its potential worth as a tool for universal health care coverage is compromised by the fact that it's even more likely to bore politicians than a stodgy slide show presentation on the subject.

THAT EVENING SUN

***

Like the current Jeff Bridges vehicle Crazy Heart, That Evening Sun is one of those films that generates nearly all of its goodwill from a smashing central performance by a long-established veteran. Here, it's Hal Holbrook who shows up to demonstrate to Hollywood's young pups how it's done. Holbrook plays Abner Meecham, an elderly Tennessee farmer who's been dumped into a nursing home by his well-meaning but insensitive son (Walt Goggins). Having none of it, Abner bolts from the facility and returns to the property that he's owned forever -- only to discover that his son has rented it to Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon), a loutish redneck Abner has long abhorred. Of course, Lonzo and his family -- meek wife Ludie (Carrie Preston) and restless daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska, soon to be seen as Tim Burton's Alice) -- have no intention of leaving, setting up a prickly, potentially violent feud between Abner and Lonzo. Adapting William Gay's story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down,"  writer-director Scott Teems gives his actors plenty of room to roam: McKinnon manages to provide his boorish character with flashes of civility, while Barry Corbin is memorable in his few scenes as Abner's longtime friend. Yet this is first and foremost a showcase for Holbrook, and it's a shame that he has to contend with some poor late-inning plotting -- specifically, an obvious climax and a cop-out coda. These flaws aren't enough to detract from his tough-minded performance, but I hate to see That Evening Sun go down in a burst of timidity.

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