Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Desperately Seeking Sympathy

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 9, 1998:  In real life, serial killers are like Ed Gein--gibbering, hillbilly nutballs with less social skills and fewer brain cells than your average bag of pork rinds. In Hollywoodland, serial killers are like Hannibal Lector--charming, mesmerising geniuses with superhuman powers and a taste for intellectual mind games. Guess which camp Barbet Schroeder's new film Desperate Measures ponies up to.

Michael Keaton (who, once upon a time, got work as a comedian) is Peter McCabe, a homicidal sociopath serving multiple life sentences in a maximum security prison. Under normal circumstances, McCabe would spend the rest of his life locked up in his cell acting creepy and performing daily Robert De Niro-in-Cape Fear workouts. But this is Hollywood, and FBI agent Frank Conner (Andy Garcia) is desperately searching for a DNA match for his ailing son. Sonny boy needs a bone marrow transplant right away, and darned if you wouldn't know it, Peter McCabe is the only match in the world. McCabe agrees to be the boy's donor, but of course he's only using it as an excuse to plan some brilliant escape from jail. Hey, even the press kit admits it's an "intriguing, if unlikely, premise."

McCabe employs his ingenious, implausable (and fairly icky) escape plan and is soon running amok in a Chicago area hospital full of potential hostages. Of course there are plenty of nearby cops eager to pump McCabe's nasty hide full of lead. The twist is that poor Frank Connor can't let McCabe bite the bullet because he still needs a donor for his son. Connor chases McCabe around for 90 minutes alternately protecting and berating the escaped con. Why McCabe never pumps a slug into Connors' noggin just to get him to shut up isn't quite clear.

This is one of those annoying movies where the villain is the only one who does anything even remotely intelligent. In fact, our alleged hero Frank Connor is so selfish, stupid and downright reckless that he ends up becoming an all-around detestable character. He starts off the film by breaking into FBI headquarters to steal DNA records, and it just goes downhill in the sympathy department after that. I suppose we're supposed to feel for old Frank because he's doing all this for his sad-eyed son's benefit. But once the sanctimonious jerk has gotten several people killed, another few shot to hell and endangered the lives of dozens more, it's a little hard to believe in the righteousness of his cause. Of course, this could have been the well-spring for some edgy moralizing. Unfortunately, Desperate Measures doesn't have time for such high-mindedness--it's got police cars to crash, ERs to blow up and bridges to jump off of.

After a nifty opening credit sequence, Schroeder (the force behind such so-so thrillers as Kiss of Death and Single White Female) turns on the auto pilot and starts directing like Michael Bay (The Rock) on a low-budget bender. Garcia does his acting-class best to run the gamut of emotions (crying over his son one second, screaming furiously at the bad guy the next). Keaton tries to have fun with his psycho-killer role at least (again, the press kit steps in calling Keaton's perf "a bold dramatic departure"). Actually, Keaton did this exact same schtick a few years back in the even more preposterous thriller Pacific Heights. Marcia Gay Harden is also along for the purported thrill-ride as sonny boy's doctor--though viewers will be forgiven if they fail to recall her as the token (and barely existent) strong-willed woman.

Desperate Measures follows the trend of most recent action films--crank up the bombast and maybe no one in the audience will notice how preposterous everything is. Unfortunately, with no major stars and only a small pyrotechnics budget to distract us, DM just doesn't measure up.

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