First, the ridiculous premise: Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer), a scientist
working for the U.S. military, creates a chemical weapon which works great
but accidentally kills 18 soldiers during an unauthorized test. Oops. Though
it was Dr. Long who insisted on the test, he gets off scot-free while the
soldiers' commander, Capt. Andrew Brynner (Peter Firth) is court-martialed
and sentenced to 10 years in Leavenworth for negligence. Even though he
was against the test from the start.
Cut to 10 years later: Long is still working on his weapon (he names
it "Elvis"); in fact, it seems not to have changed one iota in
10 years. It is a compound which is activated by heat, so it must be kept
frozen. If Elvis is allowed to warm up to 50 degrees, it will automatically
"go off," killing everything and everyone in its general area.
Gee, I hope the fridge doesn't go on the blink.
After 10 years in the slammer, Brynner is ticked off both at Long and
the U.S. government. He decides to kill the scientist and kidnap Elvis to
sell on the black market. But before he can get the compound, the mortally
wounded Dr. Long takes it to his fishing buddy, Tim Mason (Ulrich), who
runs a small coffee shop in town. He tells him to take it to the nearest
military base and be sure to keep it on ice. And it just so happens that
at that moment Tim is getting an ice cream delivery from Arlo (Gooding),
whose freezer truck is parked outside.
The rest of the film is basically a chase, with Tim and Arlo trying to
drive Elvis to the base while being pursued, threatened, and shot at by
Brynner and his henchmen. It is fraught with the most terrible acting, the
most trite action conventions, and physical impossibilities too numerous
to count. Gooding and Ulrich, both respectable actors, are faced with a
script (written by Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda), which is an insult to the
intelligence. An attempt was made at a sort of Lethal Weapon-style
infusion of humor, but the comedy often involves Gooding's homeboy posturing
and racial stereotypes. I mean, Gooding actually seems embarrassed
to be saying some of the lines he is forced to utter.
As Brynner, Firth is the most broad caricature of the military officer-turned-psycho, with the glinting eyes and the total lack of humanity since, as he puts it, the government "took that away from him." In the final reel it seems that director Johnson is trying to compensate for an embarrasing lack of real tension with loud music and fiery special effects. And the final moments of film involve the most sexist depiction of female military officers since Stripes. With Chill Factor as a start for Johnson's directing career, he shows that, like Elvis's temperature, he has nowhere to go but up. *
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