What would you do to enhance every desire? What would YOU risk?
Acceptable Risk is a TV-movie adaptation of a Robin Cook novel by prolific director William A. Graham. If you've read some of my past decisions, you may know of my fondness for the titles of cheesy made-for-TV movies. Here are some of my favorites from Graham's oeuvre (all are 100% real): Congratulations, It's a Boy!, Shirts/Skins, Get Christie Love!, Shark Kill, One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, Calendar Girl Murders, Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story, and Betrayed: A Story of Three Women. But hey, Graham's also directed episodes of some classic TV shows like, The Fugitive, Big Valley, and Batman, not to mention more modern shows like The X-Files (as a matter of fact, the cover art for the DVD declares the movie is "from the director of The X-Files," as though there's only one—for the record, Graham directed three episodes).
So, let's dig in…
Facts of the Case
Imagine a version of The Incredible Hulk in which Bruce Banner looks like Chad Lowe (Unfaithful) and the Hulk looks like…well, Chad Lowe. That's essentially what we've got here.
When Edward Wells (Lowe), a university research scientist, and his wife, Kim (Kelly Rutherford, Melrose Place), move into an 18th century house in Massachusetts she's inherited, they discover a mysterious mold in their basement (sounds exciting already, doesn't it?). Edward gets excited because the mold displays analgesic properties and may represent his big shot at fame and fortune in the drug industry (he's apparently unaware of Advil™ and Tylenol™). Burned in the past by slow-to-market university bureaucracy, Edward decides to perform his research privately, off campus, with the help of one of his graduate school buddies, Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). But the research goes terribly wrong. What follows is a preachy morality play about profit-at-all-cost pharmaceutical companies, dressed up in a tepid version of the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde myth.
Wow, this movie stinks. Let's put aside entirely the fact it attempted to inform my moral worldview because, well, that's just too ridiculous to bother acknowledging. It'll be more fun, anyway, to focus on the plethora of inanities and Sport-Utility-Vehicle-sized plot holes. Here's a partial list:
1. Exactly what kind of quack is Edward Wells and how did he get a job at a prestigious university? He's sold to us as a level-headed, likable guy yet he displays complete disregard, if not contempt, for scientific research methodology by doing the wacky mad-scientist thing and using himself as a test subject with no animal trials or a control group. Why not go all the way and give Well the rat's-nest hair, bushy eyebrows, and hunchbacked assistant all self-respecting mad scientists deserve?
2. Wells somehow manages to convince an entire group of respected researchers to use themselves as guinea pigs in an ethically questionable trial, and even tells one of them (Bobby) that he will be part of the group ingesting the mold and not in the control group taking the placebo. I know my degrees are in the humanities, but I'm pretty sure this isn't how scientific research is conducted.
3. What do any of the researchers, besides Edward, have to gain from participation in the study since it's not university-sponsored? Why wouldn't anyone challenge his methods? Well, because it's a stupid TV-movie, I guess.
4. Before it's ready to go to market and without the help of focus groups, Wells and the pharmaceutical company sleaze bag decide to name the secret mold formula Ultra because, well, the name Ulta had already been taken by a make-up and hair-product retailer.
5. Although Wells does keep the Ultra formula on a computer, he scrawls all his research in a blue-lined notebook. During what century did he receive his degree? Again, why not go all the way, having Wells scratch down his findings with a feather dipped in an ink well?
6. The scientists realize early on that one of the side-effects of ingesting Ultra is massive increases in levels of testosterone, but none of them is able to postulate that this might have certain real-world consequences like, oh, for example, increases in aggressive and violent behavior. These people apparently went straight from high school to post-graduate study and never had to take Biology 101.
7. As Wells, Chad Lowe must behave in an aggressive and menacing fashion. Keep in mind, I just used the words Chad Lowe, aggressive, and menacing in the same sentence.
8. Having spent a couple days thinking about it, I still can't quite figure out what purpose the character of Bobby served, other than maybe Sean Patrick Flanery happened to be free the weekend they were shooting and is friends with the producer or something.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
Now, if you're going to put a crappy movie out on DVD, you might as well go all the way and give it a crappy transfer, right? Assuming this was the philosophy behind Acceptable Risk, Artisan has truly delivered. It's not the worst picture quality I've ever seen, but it's pretty bad for a year-old production. Colors are somewhat muted during the daylight scenes and there's a sheen of grain; the many nighttime scenes are muddy and too dark and have even heavier grain than the daytime. Maybe it's the fault of the way the movie was shot and has nothing to do with the transfer. Frankly, I don't care—cruddy is cruddy. The full screen aspect ratio is fine since this is a TV-movie and appears to have been shot that way. The sound, like all these Artisan TV-movies is stereo and boring as can be. There are no extras.
Given the ridiculousness of the premise of Acceptable Risk, you'd think a director's natural instinct would be to do everything possible to make it fun. Why do these makers of TV-movies insist on approaching this crap as though it's Hamlet? Acceptable Risk is in no way worthy of 90 minutes of your life or 20 dollars of your hard-earned money.
I hold Acceptable Risk in contempt…not just of this court, but of DVD viewers everywhere.
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