The Film: Desperate Measures (1998)
The Principals: Director: Barbet Schroeder. Andy Garcia, Michael Keaton, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Cox, Joseph Cross, Erik King.
The Premise: A desperate San Francisco police officer, Frank Connor (Garcia), breaks into an FBI registry of bone marrow donors in an attempt to find a match for his son, Matt (Cross), who is in dire need of a transplant due to leukemia. Connor is shocked to learn that the only viable donor is Peter McCabe (Keaton), a hardened career criminal doing double life for murdering two guards in a previous escape from prison. The remorseless McCabe is not only dangerous, but cunning and highly intelligent. He agrees to do the transplant because he sees it as the perfect opportunity to escape. Taking steps to resist the anesthesia drugs (using a smuggled ampule of Narcan) and dislocating his thumb to be able to slip out of his restraints, McCabe does indeed escape and plays a cat and mouse game with Connor in the hospital. Connor does everything possible, including violating orders on numerous occasions, to track down McCabe and get him back to that transplant table, by any means necessary.
Is It Good: If you look on Rotten Tomatoes, and you take any stock in that site’s relevance, you’ll see that Desperate Measures only rates a 17%. To me, that matters dick, because I’ve always liked this movie if, for nothing else, Michael Keaton, in one of his last really standout performances (please come back, Mr. Keaton, we miss you deeply). Keaton has been around, but he hasn’t really been around. I remember him getting some acclaim for Live From Baghdad, but that was almost ten years ago. Since then, it’s been First Daughter, White Noise, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and friggin’ Post Grad and The Merry Gentleman? Did anybody see those last two? I sure as hell didn’t. Sure there were Cars, Cars 2 and Toy Story 3, but those are voice roles only. We’ve been in the desert of Keaton and it’s seriously time to get rehydrated on his greatness.
As McCabe, he wasn’t quite on his level of say, Bruce Wayne, Artie Lewis, Daryl Poynter, ole Beetlejuice, Johnny Kelly, or Carter Hayes, but McCabe was fun and gave us another reminder that Keaton can do evil very nicely and with some panache. Whereas Carter Hayes was a more passive aggressive miscreant, staying locked in his cockroach infested apartment, McCabe was a decidedly more proactive nemesis. He was a cobra who could intimidate with just a look and strike just as quick. There were glimpses from Keaton as McCabe to recollect some of his earlier crazy characters. And that first glimpse of him hefting bags of water showed that Keaton was still in good shape and could have slipped back into the cape and cowl at any time. And after the horrific Batman and Robin just the year before, I would have ritually sacrificed a close blood relative to make that happen.
Garcia also turned in a good performance here. Frank Connor wasn’t a role that someone of Garcia’s talent could have mailed in. Connor was intense, struggling, but dedicated, to the point of clouded judgment even. And he was running all over the hospital, on a 5th floor walkway and down an elevator shaft, in a steam tunnel and off a bridge to get McCabe back. His relationship with his son was believable but not sappy nor maudlin. Also, although she didn’t really get the opportunity to show it off here (she was in hospital scrubs the entire movie), Marcia Gay Harden was sexy in this pic. Brian Cox added his usual charm as well.
Now in terms of the plot, sure, it did get unbelievable at times. The SFPD was definitely given the Keystone Cops treatment here as they were continually getting outflanked by McCabe to the degree that they were. And how and why exactly was Connor the only one who could figure out where McCabe was going? Didn’t he at least send out a memo or something? Anyway, director Barbet Schroeder did have a couple of pretty intense scenes though, and he wrangled some good performances out of Keaton and Garcia. This is a movie that floated on those two performances over the rocks and shoals of any shortcomings in the script.
Is It Worth A Look: For Keaton goodness, absolutely.
Random Anecdotes: Joseph Cross has played two roles where’s he’s biologically linked to Michael Keaton: this one and in Jack Frost in the same year, as Jack’s (Keaton’s) son, Charlie.
Cinematic Soulmates: A Perfect World, Pacific Heights, Out Of Sight