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Doc Boxed In

Takashi Seida

Four Operations and a Funeral: Hugh Grant attempts to look surgical in "Extreme Measures."

Fumbling cast botches medical thriller

By Richard von Busack

A HARDWORKING emergency-room doctor, Guy Luthan (Hugh Grant), treats a homeless patient with a baffling illness; when the patient dies and his body disappears, Luthan uncovers a grisly corporate scheme. At its best, Extreme Measures is a prime paranoid thriller--handsome, briskly paced and exceptionally well-timed to coincide with current news events. It has an attractive human dimension as well. The body-snatching hit men tracking down Luthan, Burke (Bill Nunn) and Hare (David Morse), are reluctant murderers (even though they're named after the famous Scottish grave-robbers-turned-serial-killers William Burke and William Hare, who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's short story "The Body Snatcher").

At the same time, Extreme Measures is too long, burdened with a clumsy epilogue and weakened by the casting in the three leads. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant demonstrate that they are much more comfortable with light comedy than with the thriller genre. In the problematic role of the evil doctor, Gene Hackman opts for ever so slight irony during the all-important mad-scientist speech. Maybe he couldn't take seriously either the speech or (forgivably) the sight of Grant training a gun on him while he recited it. Extreme Measures is never deeper than pulp, but it is engrossing, well-made pulp, full of atmospheric details and plenty of situations that have you wondering how the hell the hero will escape. Michael Apted's tough, smart direction shines through, complemented by a credible imitation­Bernard Herrmann score by Danny Elfman.

Extreme Measures (R; 117 min.), directed by Michael Apted, written by Tony Gilroy, based on the book by Michael Palmer, photographed by John Bailey and starring Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman and Sarah Jessica Parker.

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro

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