Pompe Disease is a genetic illness which scientists had not yet developed a cure for during the events in “Extraordinary Measures.” The disease initiates a form of muscle deterioration very early on in life and in most cases results in the host dying after an estimated nine years. The problem here is that the host is missing a specific enzyme that is responsible for converting certain sugars into muscle storage. Without a proper way to build muscle tissue, the host loses body strength until they eventually cannot manipulate individual parts of their body.
Dr. Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a scientist employed at the University of Nebraska, has developed a theory to prevent the life-threatening effects of the disease. While other scientists have tested ideas involving experimentation with bovine enzymes, which do not translate with human DNA, Stonehill’s idea is to create an artificial enzyme to administer to those with the illness. Unfortunately, due to his meager salary as a university scientist and the school system’s lack of interest in funding the operation, Dr. Stonehill was never able to further experiment with this theory or discover a cure.
However, things are about to change after his work is discovered by an Oregonian, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser). John and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) parent two children with Pompe disease: 8-year old Megan (Meredith Droeger) and 6-year old Patrick (Diego Velazquez). After Megan’s 8th birthday party arrives upon them, they begin worrying that they only have a limited amount of time left with her. These fears are only enhanced by a recent scare at the hospital when her heart temporarily stopped beating. As a last effort at quelling these negative feelings, John does online research in hopes of finding any recent progress regarding a cure for the disease. Luckily, as I said above, he stumbles upon Dr. Stonehill’s theory and finds it to be a plausible solution.
In a bold move of leaving an important business meeting, John flies to Nebraska to meet the man behind the theory. After much discussion on the matter, the two decide to work together to turn the hypothesis into a valid conclusion. Though there is still the problem of raising a generous $500 million to fund the laboratory work. John establishes an organization for children with Pompe in order to receive donations from its members. The entire operation must be performed in less than a year if they can ever hope to see their children live past their double-digits.
Most likely my biggest problem with the film is the performances by the two leads, which most of the time borders on made-for-TV movie acting. While it’s good to see Brendan Fraser take a departure from his normal family action/adventure popcorn flick, I do not think he is quite capable of being a dramatic lead in a movie with such heavy-handed themes. On the other hand, Harrison Ford overacts in his portrayal of Dr. Stonehill. While the film is trying to depict Stonehill as an old, short-tempered scientist with a lot on his mind, Ford overdoes it so much in so many scenes that the character loses almost any sort of believability that he could have had.
However, one angle that I thought would get on my nerves that didn’t at all was over-sentimentality. Whether you take that as a compliment or a detriment to the film is to your own estimation. Me? I walk somewhere in the middle. On one hand, the audience is not berated over the head with a cutesy, non-subtle message about family or the problems with the world; the children are not used just for the sole purpose of infusing a family-friendly element to the movie. On the other hand, the problem in the lack of sentimentality is that the film doesn’t know whether or not it should restrain and be an interesting business drama or plunge forward and become a heart-wrenching weepfest. Because of this indecisiveness, it becomes hard for the viewer to entirely become emotionally connected with the film.
“Extraordinary Measures” provides an inspiring story based upon true events in a novel called “The Cure” by Geeta Anand. Though I am not familiar with the novel, I can imagine this is better interpreted as a book than as a film adaptation. Although the movie isn’t quite awful, it just feels average to some extent. While the problem at hand should feel urgent and should have the viewer engrossed, it never really gets to the point of dire necessity. The plot is predictable, the pacing is only moderate and the material is ordinary when it should be extraordinary.