Chain Reaction (1996)
“Reaction Time 8-4-96”
Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz
Synopsis: Two researchers in a green alternative energy project are put on the run when they are framed for murder and treason.
Chain Reaction is basically one long chase movie with a little dodgy science thrown in to lend it some spurious gravitas. It’s not a good film. Although filmed well enough, the chases are a little too lengthy, and hero Eddie Kasalivich’s repeated escapes from the clutches of sinister Government types quickly stretch credulity. That science they occasionally spout when stopping for a breather from all that running around doesn’t make a lot of sense to laymen like me, but it’s speaks volumes about the movie as a whole when I say that it really doesn’t matter. The science is unimportant — it’s all about the chases and the explosions.
Keanu Reeves, that bland Adonis of the clan of the clueless hero, plays Kasalivich, a machinist working with a team of boffins from the University of Chicago who are working on manufacturing clean, abundant energy by separating the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water (or something). They work in a huge, disused industrial plant on the outskirts of the city, which is just as well because, just hours after celebrating the successful conclusion of all their work, the entire place blows up in an explosive money shot that still looks impressive nearly twenty years later. Eddie is lucky to escape from the explosion with his life. He was returning to the plant to pick up his bike after walking home his tiddly colleague Dr. Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz, the possessor of quite magnificent eyebrows) and, his curiosity was piqued after passing an anonymous looking van full of shifty men driving away from the plant. Before he has to flee for his life, Eddie just has time to discover the body of Dr. Barkley (Nicholas Rudall) lying on his back with a plastic bag over his head.
Both Eddie and Lily face intense questioning from the police and from FBI agents Leon Ford (Fred Ward) and Doyle (Kevin Dunn). During a break in the questioning, when they return to Lily’s room to collect some of her belongings, they realise that they are being framed for the murder and have no choice but to go on the run.
As with most movies of this kind, our heroes possess apparently bottomless reserves of strength to draw upon during their pursuit, never seeming to suffer the consequences of all that running around. Lily proves to be something of a dead weight, her apparent purpose in the movie — other than to offer a form that is easy on the eye — seeming to be simply to ask questions on behalf of the audience. As far as I can recall, the only contribution she makes to events is when she whacks a pursuing agent over the back of the head with a toilet cistern lid about an hour into the movie. For his part, Reeves permanently wears that seriously puzzled look he’s so good at while running from one situation to the next. Every now and then he does something extraordinary to drive the plot forward (how long would it take you to tap into the vehicle registrations via a police patrol car?), but he fails to convince as an everyman hero capable of performing feats that were previously unthinkable to him.
The supporting cast is headed by a triumvirate of accomplished character actors. Morgan Freeman delivers a laid-back performance as the film’s most morally ambiguous character, while Brian Cox struggles manfully with a dodgy Southern accent, and Fred Ward is given little to do other than follow a step or two behind the plot for most of the time. These names provide an element of class to Chain Reaction which it really doesn’t deserve. It’s ordinary — but with a big budget which might fool some naÃ¯ve viewers into believing it’s more substantial than it actually is.
(Reviewed 8th December 2013)