A taut suspense film that ultimately sacrifices credibility for shocks and pacing, “Desperate Measures” betrays more than a little desperation.
The tale of a Hannibal Lecter-style psychopath (Michael Keaton) recruited by a San Francisco detective (Andy Garcia) to serve as bone-marrow donor for his dying 9-year-old son, Barbet Schroeder’s thriller is neither realistic nor stylish enough to win over audiences.
Keaton, in an uncharacteristic turn, plays the villain, Peter McCabe, who is serving a life sentence for several gruesome murders in a maximum-security prison. McCabe, possessed of a well-honed physique and near-genius IQ (natch), is approached by Frank Connor (Garcia), who has broken several rules to determine that McCabe is the only suitable match for his son Matt’s bone marrow. McCabe is resistant at first, but he is seemingly won over after meeting the adorable tyke and by the promise of increased privileges.
We then see McCabe’s elaborate preparations for what we know is coming - his escape attempt. He obtains hospital blueprints from the ever-helpful prison computer, dislocates his thumb so he can escape from his restraints and procures a drug to help him overcome anesthesia. Just as the operation - to be performed by Matt’s beautiful, determined doctor (Marcia Gay Harden) - is to begin, McCabe puts his plan in action. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose. Most of the film’s running time is consumed by an elaborate cat-and-mouse chase in the hospital between McCabe and legions of police officers led by the gruff Capt. Cassidy (Brian Cox).
Complicating matters further is the fact that if McCabe is killed, chances for the transplant will be destroyed. Connor is thus put in the difficult position of trying to capture McCabe while preventing the cops from shooting him. It isn’t long before the police think Connor’s in cahoots with McCabe, who encourages the association through a series of teasing comments.
Everything in the film is overdone, from McCabe’s superhuman abilities (he’s so scary, even the police dogs are terrified) to the increasingly far-fetched manner in which he plots his escape and evades capture even while manacled and wounded. The story’s execution is so over-the-top it destroys the fun of an undeniably clever premise and is reflective of the general overkill and lack of coherent plotting evident in so many current action films.
The surprise is that “Desperate Measures” is the work of Schroeder, a director responsible for much more subtle and compelling work (“Reversal of Fortune,” “Kiss of Death”). It must be said, however, that relentless pacing and lack of narrative fat give “Desperate Measures” a kinetic quality that never lets attention waver.
xxxx “Desperate Measures” Location: East Sprague, Coeur d’Alene Cinemas, Post Falls Cinema Credits: Directed by Barbet Schroeder, starring Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Cox, Joseph Cross Running time: 1:40 Rating: R