'Speed' clone remains frigid
Imagine "Speed" and "The Rock" thrown together and utterly stripped of all originality and imagination. Then take away the actor's performances. Then put two first-time scriptwriters, Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda, and a first-time director, Hugh Johnson, in the hot seat to make a movie.
Welcome to "Chill Factor."
The title reeks of bad film, but unfortunately, its only the beginning. The story begins on a Pacific island where a test of a top-secret defoliant agent is taking place. In charge of the experiment are Dr. Richard Long, played by David Paymer ("Payback" and "The American President") and USMC Captain Andrew Brynner, played by Peter Firth ("Mighty Joe Young" and "Amistad"). The experiment goes tragically wrong though, when the defoliant, codename Elvis, turns out to be dramatically more potent and lethal than ever imagined.
In a grisly death sequence, all 18 of Captain Brynner's men are killed outside the base. Brynner is subsequently sent to prison for 12 years at the court martial hearing, but mysteriously Dr. Long is completely cleared, even though he was the staunchest supporter of the experiment.
Twelve years of brig time warp and harden Brynner though, and upon his release he recruits a rogue terrorist group and raids the military base where Long now works frantically on a way to neutralize the Elvis agent. Brynner's hope is to steal Elvis and then sell the deadly agent on the international black market.
Though fatally wounded by Brynner and pals, Long manages to slip away with Elvis and stumble into the short-order diner where his fishing buddy Tim Mason (Skeet Ulrich of "Scream" and "As Good As It Gets") works. With his dying breath, Long explains that Mason must find a way to get Elvis to the military base 90 miles away ... and he must do it while keeping the Elvis from ever reaching 50 degrees, else millions will die.
To his good fortune and the misfortune of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s career as a real actor, Gooding is there to play the unfortunate ice cream truck driver, Arlo, about to be conscripted into action.
The story devolves and dissolves happily from there, as Ulrich and Gooding drive through the Montana countryside pursued first by the terrorists and then later by the law, because Arlo has stolen his company's ice cream truck.
There are explosions, cars that blow up and a whole range of special effects. But the dialogue is a shoddy patchwork of cliches that in no way utilizes the actors' abilities to play off each other. Ignoring any potential for serious thrills, "Chill Factor"'s rookie scriptwriters instead opt for the umpteenth version of the mismatched buddy action-flick, yet another knock-off of the now-venerable "Lethal Weapon" series.
The other factor that really derails the film is the extreme idiocy of all involved parties. The movie just throws too many mind-bogglingly dumb plot points at the audience.
In the court martial scene for instance, why does Brynner, who vehemently opposed the experiment, get 12 years, while Dr. Long, who insisted on performing the experiment without essential controls, get off scot free?
Why does Long go to the local diner chef and fishing buddy instead of call the police, the FBI, the Army or National Guard when he needs to protect Elvis? Perhaps one may chalk that off to the hysteria of near-death, but Arlo and Mason have plenty of opportunities when they are not being chased that they could pull off of the road and call the authorities.
Overall, as action movies go, "Chill Factor" is decently entertaining. Ulrich and Gooding are good actors on their own, and they do seem to play off each other moderately well. Occasionally, Gooding seems to be trying too hard however, as if he could save the project on his own merits, if he only worked hard enough at it.
Peter Firth is a well respected British actor with a long list of accolades. David Paymer is a fantastic comedic character actor, one of the many in Hollywood whose faces and performances one would easily recognize, if not his name. But placed into the hands of the amateurs who appear to be running this movie, none are able to perform to their potential.
There's a scene where a female terrorist is about to kill Mason and says, "I'm a professional; this won't hurt a bit." Mason, before beating her unconscious, replies, "I'm an amateur; this is going to hurt like a son of a b@#$*."
After "Chill Factor," everyone can vouch for that.
All Scene Stories for Thursday, September 9, 1999