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CHAIN REACTION

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Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn, Brian Cox
Director: Andrew Davis
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Trailers and TV Spots
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: May 22, 2001

“Every idea that offers a competitive advantage to Americans is subject to failure, and that, gentlemen, could be catastrophic.”

Film ***

The year was 1994 when Keanu Reeves had become a hot and bankable leading star with his breakthrough performance in the successful action thriller Speed. Following that film, his track record wasn’t improving as well as it should have. Before breaking through completely with The Matrix in 1999, the actor had string of disappointments with critics and audiences, with the exception of the beautifully made and acted A Walk in the Clouds. One of those disappointments was 1996’s Chain Reaction, a scientific political thriller from Fugitive director Andrew Davis. Fox was already having a wildly successful summer with the release of Independence Day, and the studio was most likely hoping for another action movie success with Reeves at the helm once again. Like many late summer releases, Chain Reaction was lost among the blockbusters. As for the movie itself, it isn’t a great movie, but a very engaging thriller indeed with a rare level of intelligence to boot.

Like The Fugitive, this movie is based mostly in Chicago, where director Davis and his cinematographer Frank Tidy photograph extremely well. The wrongly accused character in this film is Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves), a student and an expert of physics. Eddie, along with his supervisor Dr. Barkley (Nicholas Rudall), are working hard to create a pollution-free energy source. By simply mixing together water with hydrogen, enough energy can be produced to power a big city, such as Chicago, for weeks on end. Barkley not only wants to create this source, but give it to world free of charge. Eddie soon creates a successful mixture, and the source has been created. All is well, until a mysterious group of men break into the lab, murder Dr. Barkley, and blow up the laboratory in a heartbeat. The explosion results in the leveling of eight city blocks.

As if the explosion itself wasn’t enough bad news, Eddie, along with co-worker and physicist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz), have been convincingly framed for the murder, and soon find themselves on the run from the authorities. It’s a convincing frame up because federal agents soon discover 250,000 dollars in Eddie’s loft, as well as a burst transmitter, while Lily has suddenly received faxes from a suspected and missing scientist to rendezvous with him in China.  While eluding the police and FBI, Eddie requests the help of his friend Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman), who over sought the project, to find out who may have been responsible for the incident. Along the course of the pursuit, sudden twists begin to unfold concerning shady characters, and the FBI team leader, Inspector Ford (Fred Ward), begins to suspect that Eddie may be in fact innocent.

Many critics attacked Chain Reaction for being much of a clone of Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive, and in some cases, it kind of is. But I still have to give Davis a lot of credit for his visual interest. Just like in The Fugitive, Davis and his cinematographer boasts some exciting exterior shots of each of their location, particularly downtown Chicago, where a foot chase between Eddie and the local police takes place. It leads up to the humongous Michigan avenue bridge, which Eddie climbs onto as it is separating for an oncoming boat. I very much consider that an original action sequence. Davis succeeded in turning The Fugitive in two a an exciting two hour chase, and in Chain Reaction, he still maintains that quality in turning even the simplest kind of action scene into a most effective one.

It may not be the most believable movie you’ll see, but Chain Reaction is a professionally made thriller to say the least. Reeves and Freeman are very good in their performances, which also gives the movie another boost of credit, and Andrew Davis’ directing is in high quality form. Chain Reaction makes for two hours of simple escapist, tension filled fun.

Video ****

Yet another stellar video transfer from Fox, one of our current leading DVD studios. The transfer for Chain Reaction is high quality we’ve come to expect from them, sharp picture, clear and vibrant colors, and zero picture flaws. The movie switches to different locations, and each of them looks fabulous in this presentation, such as downtown Chicago, the snowy landscape of Wisconsin, and abandoned laboratory building in which the movie’s climax takes place. Fox delivers once again!

Audio ***1/2

After a string of DVD releases that we’re given only the use of a 4.0 Digital track, such as Point Break and Big Trouble in Little China, it’s nice to see Fox return to the roots of the 5.1 Digital track, because it is really perfected well in Chain Reaction. Everything from numerous loud explosions, prolonged chase scenes, and the intense musical score from Jerry Goldsmith all add up to a knockout audio presentation.

Features *1/2

Not a whole lot, unfortunately. All that’s included is a trailer and two TV spots for the movie, and trailers for three other Fox releases, Point Break, Unlawful Entry, and Big Trouble in Little China.

Summary:

If you’re a fan of espionage thrillers, or anything resembling The Fugitive, for that matter, Chain Reaction should be just what you’re looking for. It is cleverly plotted and well acted, which isn’t what expect to encounter in an action thriller.