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Intensive Care

After Extreme Measures, Hugh Grant's career is in stable condition

And speaking of the bad guys: for once, we have a thriller in which the henchmen have dramatically sound and emotionally compelling reasons to be henchmen. It wouldn't be fair to reveal just what those reasons are -- somehow, the advertising guys managed to avoid spilling these beans. Suffice it to say that, when David Morse and Bill Nunn go about the nasty business of making life miserable for our hero, they don't exactly whistle while they work. This is a small touch, but it demonstrates just how much thought has gone into the details here.

Just as Hugh Grant makes the protagonist more recognizably human than this kind of character usually appears in this sort of thriller, Gene Hackman gives the antagonist more gravitas than you will find in most standard-issue movie heavies. Hackman is smart enough to play against the character's hubris, so that Lawrence Myrick comes across as a genuinely selfless innovator who actually makes a great deal of sense as he rationalizes his use of street people as test subjects.

In Myrick's view -- a view he very much wants Luthan to share -- the deaths of a few can benefit millions. He is not a mad scientist or a twisted megalomaniac. And that, of course, makes him all the more effective and unsettling as a modern-day Mephistopheles.

Extreme Measures is fairly conventional in the broad outlines of its plotting. But it does have some ingenious surprises to spring. At least two involve a strikingly attractive nurse played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Another involves a gruff-talking cop, played by Peter Appel, whose providential arrival during a key confrontation may not really change matters one way or the other. In the area of stunt casting, there is a cameo appearance by director David Cronenberg that will be very amusing for those who recognize him. At the time Cronenberg enters the picture, a moment of comic relief is quite welcome. Because, by that point, Hugh Grant has stopped joking and started sweating.

Extreme Measures.
Directed by Michael Apted. With Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Rated R.
157 minutes.

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