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It's a Case of Anything Goes in Davis' 'Chain Reaction'


If it were possible to make a good movie from a bad script, you'd be wise to turn to a miracle worker like Andrew Davis, who once made a good movie from one starring Steven Seagal ("Under Siege").

That feat earned Davis the directing assignment on "The Fugitive," which may be the best action thriller of the decade, and now he's back with "Chain Reaction."

Davis choreographed another rash of spectacular action sequences, but "Chain Reaction" is doomed by a premise so simple and so absurd, it's easier to sympathize with star Keanu Reeves (poor guy, his career was going so well) than with his character.

Reeves, his hair grown back into a Prince Valiant, plays Eddie Kasalivich, a laboratory machinist on the run, with beautiful young physicist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz) in tow, from Chicago cops, the FBI, the CIA and assorted thugs after being framed for the murder of their science team leader and the bombing of their lab. Eddie and Lily, "The Fugitives, Two."

For the entire movie, Eddie and Lily are being chased throughout wintry Chicago, over rooftops, up drawbridges, across frozen lakes and through subterranean tunnels, while trying to solve the crimes for which they're accused, and, amazingly, to protect a formula for converting water into fuel that can either solve the world's energy and pollution crises or become the ultimate weapon of a corporate megalomaniac (Brian Cox).

Dr. Richard Kimble just had to beat the murder rap. After getting away with the scene in "The Fugitive" where Harrison Ford does a cannonball off a dam, Davis must have figured anything goes. So he has Reeves, who moves with the speed and grace of someone in snowshoes, outrunning and outthinking armies of skilled lawmen and sharpshooters, and he has an FBI agent (Fred Ward) who grudgingly respects the guile of the fugitive.

As Lily, Weisz, a British actress who made her film debut in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty," has a role that barely qualifies as thankless.

Lily and Eddie don't exchange a glance of romantic interest, she doesn't solve anything, she doesn't even know the formula everyone wants. Eddie does it all, rescues her from the clutches of evil, dries her after a dip in icy waters, he even finds the sardines and crackers that are always left behind in boarded-up houses in bad movies.

The lone grace note of "Chain Reaction" is the performance of Morgan Freeman as the high-living if not high-minded bureaucrat who runs the government-industry cabal funding the energy research project. From his entrance, it's obvious that Paul Shannon is more than the lab team's benefactor and not quite the trustworthy father figure Eddie sees him as.

But Freeman plays the character's motivations close to the vest and there is some suspense as we close in on knowing whether he's good or bad. I wouldn't miss the Olympics for it.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for some intense action/violence. Times guidelines: may be too intense for younger kids.


'Chain Reaction'

Keanu Reeves: Eddie Kasalivich

Morgan Freeman: Paul Shannon

Rachel Weisz: Lily Sinclair

Fred Ward: FBI Agent Ford

Kevin Dunn: FBI Agent Doyle

A Zanuck Co./Chicago Pacific Entertainment/Arne L. Schmidt production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Andrew Davis. Producers Arne L. Schmidt, Andrew Davis. Executive producers, Richard D. Zanuck, Erwin Stoff. Screenplay by J.F. Lawton, Michael Bortman, based on a story by Arne L. Schmidt & Rick Seaman and Josh Friedman. Cinematographer Frank Tidy. Editor Donald Brochu, Dov Hoenig, Arthur Schmidt. Costumes Jane Blank. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Maher Ahmad. Art director David J. Bomba. Set designer Gene Serdena. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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