a critiQal film review Chain Reaction (1996)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves), an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, works as a technician for a scientific team that discovers an alternative, low-cost, pollution-free fuel source. When the chief scientist is murdered and the invention stolen, Eddie and physicist Lily Sinclair (Weisz) are framed for it and have to flee for their lives, with the FBI, CIA and others in close pursuit.

558 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 47s)

While perusing the NetFlix® selection of instantly available movies, I stumbled across an action pic from ’96 I barely remembered: Chain Reaction, starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman and Rachel Weisz.

Since I’ve seen Keanu, Morgan and Rachel in some solid action flicks (The Matrix (1999), Red (2010) and The Mummy (1999), respectively), I knew they could make the film exciting. But was the near-forgotten Chain Reaction one of the good ones? Or is it just a throwaway action flick not worth my time?

Keanu Reeves, who showed he had what it takes to be an action star in films like the afore-mentioned The Matrix (1999) and Speed (1994), falters in Chain Reaction. With his shaggy mop of hair and his casual clothes, he gives the air of a slacker – reminiscent of his role in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) – not a research technician who single-handedly solves the world’s energy problem. Viewers never will believe him in the role. His total lack of chemistry with his co-star Rachel Weisz doesn’t help either. Any way you look at it, viewers will give his character some distance, and never actually get around to rooting for him.

Rachel Weisz, who showed she could add solid doses of humor and spice to her doe-eyed look with an absent-minded professor shtick in The Mummy (1999), is completely ill-used in Chain Reaction. Viewers get a few doses of her physicist’s brain at work. But, most of the time she is just pulled from place to place by Keanu, who treats her like a puppy on a leash. When she tries to cozy up to him (as most viewers would expect in an action flick), Keanu remains stoically stone-faced. That leaves her completely wasting all her emoting.

Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, plays his role well. Viewers will appreciate seeing the depths of his character expanded on during the film. His run-ins with the perfectly cast Brian Cox, while extremely brief, are highlights of the film.

While the film seems to start out well, the viewer can easily guess the whole plot of the story right from the start – including all of the supposedly surprising twists and turns. While the film plays out, the twists come just as expected. The viewer will begin to liken this action flick to a paint-by-numbers drawing, with each piece being filled in methodically. Unfortunately, that’s about how difficult it is for our hero to piece together the picture as well, stumbling from place to place and happening across another key bit of evidence. The “evidence” becomes easier and easier to find as the movie wears on too. Eventually, he is lead to an actual blueprint at a nearby construction site which conveniently includes a supposedly secret underground base.

Chain Reaction which at first seems like a popcorn action pic with quite a few recognizable names, degenerates into a see-through paint-by-numbers thriller. Keanu seems to be completely out of his element as a brainy tech. Plus, he completely shuns all hopes at chemistry with his puppy-on-a-leash co-star Weisz. Add a blatant “look! here’s a clue” mentality about the whole film, and the viewer can never really get into the excitement. Instead, they will spend most of their time looking for Keanu to utter a Ted “Theodore” Logan-worthy “whoa” or “bummer dude”.

Like the similarly-themed The Saint, Chain Reaction doesn’t live up to it’s hype.

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