This is a conventional story driven by suspense and images instead of bodies and blood.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Chain Reaction" is a real white-knuckler in the summer wasteland. Director Andrew Davis works at such a clip that even gaping holes in the material don't shatter the suspense. Every few seconds, some marvelous sight grabs our attention and throws us into a new breath-taking dilemma.

In a haunting echo of the atom splitting done at the University of Chicago in the 40s, the story is set in the university's hydrogen energy lab, where today's idealists are looking for a cheap, clean, abundant energy source to share with the world on the Internet. Yes, the Internet. Our idealistic heroes intend no less than to eradicate the need for countries to protect their dwindling natural resources--free energy, no war. The sword that hangs above them is the same possibility of chain reaction that troubled Enrico Fermi--though not enough to stop him--fifty years ago. The historical echo gets the movie off to a rousing start.

Eddie Kasalivich (Keanu Reeves) is the talented machinist who is framed for the lab explosion that obliterates eight square blocks of Chicago's south side. He's on the lam with his colleague, Dr. Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz), a physicist whose only apparent credential is the instant credibility conferred by her British accent. We have FBI agent Leon Ford (Fred Ward) in hot pursuit, and we have a very confusing set of villains.

Ambiguous villainy is not much fun. A few murky industrialists who smell money in hydrogen are mixed into the old turf war between the FBI and the CIA. Lyman Earl Collier (Brian Cox) is a coward of indeterminate beliefs and origins, whose ordinariness denies us the pleasure of focusing our rage on a worthy shark. Morgan Freeman brings all his natural elegance to the role of the enigmatic Paul Shannon, but even he is not able to bring a badly written character to life.

The movie itself comes alive through bold and beautiful images that are a wondrous reprieve from the relentless urban violence so fashionable today. The lab explosion radiates outward through Chicago in ripples of heat waves. Plungers, gauges, 10 megalevel lasers, particle reactors bubble and flow through tubes and vats. A black helicopter chases a brilliant red Everglades-style rescue boat across the white of a frozen Wisconsin lake. Eddie negotiates the dangers of an open drawbridge that is about to throw him into the clutches of the FBI, the jaws of the bridge, or a miraculous survival.

If we miss the deeply personal motives of Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive," or the wit of Sean Connery in "The Rock," we can still enjoy Keanu Reeves as he leaps out of his grunge into full action battle. With the plucky scientist at his side, he becomes our tour guide through a landscape of inspired sights. This is a conventional story driven by suspense and images instead of bodies and blood. Given this summer's other fare, that is cause for applause.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : 20th Centruy Fox
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h46m

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