Rated R - Running Time: 1:47 - Released 9/1/99

What's the worst action movie you can think of from the last few years? Armageddon? Black Dog? The Peacemaker? Well, you can add Chill Factor to that venerable list of favorites. Like those others, this film features some usually respectable cast members, but Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich have added an embarrassing black mark to their resumés. Directed by Hugh Johnson (his first, unless you want to count his stint as second unit director for G.I. Jane), Chill Factor blends lousy screenwriting with a totally ridiculous premise, and flavors it lovingly with unrealistic situations and unfathomable directing choices.

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. *

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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