Fox // 1996 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 6th, 2001
"I thought you had things under control."
Andrew Davis scored some big brownie points with moviegoers when he made the Harrison Ford hit The Fugitive. Not only did critics and audiences flock to the adventures of Dr. Richard Kimble, it was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1993. Davis' follow-up was the Morgan Freeman/Keanu Reeves action thriller Chain Reaction. A disappointment upon initial release, Fox gives chase with a DTS version of this explosive action film, sans one single "whoa" from Mr. Reeves.
Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves) is a student machinist who is part of a science team at the University of Chicago who have found a way to use hydrogen as a new form of electricity. Burning cleanly with no pollutants, this may be an answer the energy sucking economy is looking for. The problem is they need the right frequency to keep the project working.
One night while spending too much time playing with his work, Eddie finds the correct frequency that will keep the hydrogen burning safely. Sharing this information with the team, headed by Dr. Barkley (Nicholas Rudall), is exciting news. They run a test with government project sponsor Paul Shannon (Freeman) there, as well as lab assistant Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy Returns). The test is a success, and after a night of partying most everyone goes home happy. Everyone, that is, except Dr. Barkley, who plans on sharing this newfound information with everyone on the Internet. This doesn't go over well with some government officials who fear economic breakdown if this new found information is leaked to the world. So, in typical Hollywood style, troopers break into the lab, steal the info and blow up the lab. But not before Eddie stops in, finds a dead Dr. Barkley, outruns the explosion and is soon a fugitive of the law, framed for espionage and murder.
Okay, got all that?
While on the lam, Eddie once again meets up with Lily, having her tag along to A.) make it more exciting for the audience, B.) use her to bounce humorous dialogue off of, and C.) two words: "love interest." With FBI agents Ford and Doyle (played by Fred Ward and Kevin Dunn) and a shady Paul Shannon hot on their tale, Eddie and Lily must prove their innocence and end what they've started...a Chain Reaction.
I'm not above saying that I just didn't really get it. I thought that maybe I was the only one who saw Chain Reaction and didn't have much of a clue as to what was going on. Usually I don't like to read other people's reviews of films I am attempting to review myself, as it takes away some of the fun of gaining my own perspective on it. Chain Reaction was the exception. I scratched my head after watching it, wondering if I'd maybe fallen asleep during a key scene to the plot. Using my trusty computer I zipped on over to Roger Ebert's site to see what he thought of Chain Reaction. To my surprise, he seems fairly clueless as to what went on as well.
Chain Reaction just has too much going on in it. The script seems to have been written by someone who is much more intelligent than your average audience; how else do you explain the bafflement created by eighteen seemingly different plots, twists, and turns? There's the thing with the explosion, than the thing with the police, than the thing with the love interest, then the thing with the hydrogen...and then I got sidetracked watching the counter on my player count down the seconds to when this thing ended. Being as I'm often not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I'm going to say watch the film and see for yourself what the hell it was all about.
Chain Reaction is not all horrible confusion. It does contain some very nice action sequences, as well as interesting characters. A scene that takes place over the Michigan Avenue drawbridge is a very fun set piece (though a bit implausible). Watching as Eddie scants up the slowly moving bridge is exhilarating and tense. An ice boat chase that takes place on a lake in Wisconsin also provides some visceral thrills, though it would have been nice to have seen them take out an ice fisherman or two. Chain Reaction has many show stoppers that are a lot of fun to watch, it's just too bad that the story line too often gets in the way.
Reeves character is a variation on everyone else he's played. I'm amazed that the guy still works, seeing as he acts and looks like a west coast surfer one hundred percent of the time. As with most of his movies, it's not that he's particularly bad, just somewhat miscast. An actor such as Toby Maguire might work better in a role like this. Morgan Freeman is always great in any movie, bringing an air of dignity to the proceedings. He usually gives his characters so much complexity that you're amazed they are floating around in what ends up sometimes being a sub-par film. The rest of the cast ably performs their tasks, with Fred Ward doing an especially nice job as a very familiar FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones, get your lawyer on the phone). The whole thing is directed by Andrew Davis, and the entire length of Chain Reaction smells an awfully lot like Davis' much better The Fugitive. Innocent man on the run from the law, takes place in Chicago, a cover-up, et cetera. Scriptwriters Michael Bortman and J.F. Lawton may have been watching Davis' previous movie a little too closely.
Chain Reaction is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality was generally very good, though a bit of edge enhancement was spotted. Colors show bright and bold with blacks being solid and dark. Grain was not present, and neither was compression. Though there are some minor flaws with the picture, it's a very good transfer from Fox.
Audio includes DTS (in English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), as well as a Dolby Surround 2.0 track (in English and French). This is the spot where the disc becomes special, in that the DTS track has used up the room that the extra features would have gone (besides a few trailers that are included). The DTS track sounds a bit more impressive than the Dolby 5.1 track, with the bass being much thicker and deeper. Though the DTS track and the 5.1 track are very good, the DTS had a much more crisp sound than the 5.1 track. Dialogue was clean on both tracks, as well as a good mix of music (by Academy Award winner Jerry Goldsmith) and effects. Overall both are excellent, and a 2.0 track is also included for those without a surround sound system. English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The extra features include a theatrical trailer for Chain Reaction, as well as two full frame television spots and a Fox Flix trailer (the one you see on the beginning of most Fox DVD releases).
Well, aside of the fact that keeping track of the story was about as confusing as why Kristy Swanson still has a movie career, there was the often inane dialogue. It all gets a bit hokey, especially when Weisz's character asks Reeves what he's doing, and his reply is, "the best I can." If that's the best these guys can come up with, it's time to go back to screenwriting school.
Though I wasn't a huge fan of the movie, it would have been nice to see a few more extras tacked on the disc. The inclusion of a few trailers and TV spots doesn't lend much to the overall package. However, Chain Reaction wasn't a huge hit with audiences, so I guess just getting a disc with a DTS track should be excitement enough.
For the price, I'm not sure that I can really say this is a great purchase. It most certainly might be worth a rental, as long as you have someone with a PD sitting next to you to explain the film as it unfolds. If you have DTS decoder on your player, this will come in handy as it slightly bests the Dolby 5.1 track (and do I need to say that it blows the 2.0 track right out of the water)? Rachel Weisz is nice eye candy, Morgan Freeman is always interesting, and the action is well paced.
The Fugitive...err, I mean Chain Reaction is free to go, though treading on thin ice. Mr. Davis and his screenwriters are guilty of ripping off his previous (and better) movie. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots