Chill Factor (1999)
Directed by Hugh Johnson
Cast: Skeet Ulrich, Cuba Gooding Jr., Peter Firth, David Paymer, Kevin J. O'Connor.
1999 102 minutes
Rated: (for violence, gore, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 1, 1999.
'Been there, done that.' Despite the, albeit malnutritious, entertainment value of the new action-comedy, 'Chill Factor,' directed by Hugh Johnson, making his feature-film debut, those four words constantly were ringing into my ears. Cliched, far-fetched, and basically 'Speed 3' with a twist, the kicker this time isn't a bus or cruise ship that can't slow down below a certain speed, but a deadly biological weapon that must stay below fifty degrees, or else it will mean the end of the whole state of Montana. Where the original 1994 'Speed' rose above its overbaked genre, thanks to non-stop, expertly-shot action scenes that kept audiences on the edge of their seats throughout, 'Chill Factor' unfortunately only includes a twenty-minute set-piece right in the middle of the film that even remotely equals up to its birth mother, and then it stops in its tracks for the remainder of the 102-minute running time. Luckily, it doesn't overstay its welcome, and remains a solidly diverting, if generic, way to spend a few hours.
Jumping right off with a frighteningly realistic prologue in which the malicious Major Andrew Brynner (Peter Firth) is the cause of the destruction of a whole military island, and deservedly is shipped off to prison, the picture fast-forwards ten years, when Brynner is released and immediately sets a plot into motion that includes selling the lethal chemical for $100 million to some international baddies. Stalking the scientist/creator (David Paymer) at his lab and shooting him, they discover that he has escaped with the chemical, nicknamed 'Elvis.' To make a long story short, 'Elvis' falls into the hands of Tim (Skeet Ulrich), a short-order cook, and Arlo (Cuba Gooding Jr.), an ice cream delivery man, who are instructed to transport it to Fort McGruder before Brynner and his nasty henchmen can catch up to them. And, oh yeah, Tim and Arlo have no choice but to keep "Elvis" below the magic temperature of 50 degrees, or KABLOOM!
'Chill Factor' is the exact type of film that, like clockwork, is always released on the first weekend of September each year. Last year, we were blessed with the godawful Jean-Claude Van Damme no-brainer, 'Knock Off,' and in September of 1997 was the mediocre, if better-than-expected, Steven Seagal film, 'Fire Down Below.' At least sparing us with the overall badness of 'Knock Off,' 'Chill Factor' is still nothing more than an unoriginal, professionally-done action movie. No attempt is made to raise above this sub-par level, and that is part of its slight charm. It's doubtful director Johnson or screenwriters Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda expected greatness to come from this film and, therefore, it gains a sort of innocent quality whose only purpose is to entertain the viewer for the remainder of its running time. Sure, more suspense could have been injected into the pacing in order for it to really take off, but you can't expect everything when you're dealing with such an obvious studio effort.
The question remains, though. Why has Cuba Gooding Jr. fallen on such blatantly desperate hard times? A Best Supporting Actor Academy Award Winner for 1996's 'Jerry Maguire,' Gooding Jr. has followed this career high point up with last year's thought-provoking 'What Dreams May Come,' which stuck him in a minor role, and this past summer's cinematic snooze-fest, 'Instinct.' Now, with 'Chill Factor,' he has resorted to playing the type of stock jokester black man role that is often seen with rising stars (Eddie Murphy in 1984's 'Beverly Hills Cop,' Chris Tucker in 1998's 'Rush Hour'), rather than someone who long-since established his talent and wide-range with 1991's gritty, touching, 'Boyz N the Hood.' Gooding Jr. too often appears on autopilot here, and you can't help but feel bad for him, since he clearly is capable of doing far more challenging work. Together, with Skeet Ulrich, they make a reasonably likable heroic duo, and are fun to watch most of the time. Ulrich alone, however, is as bland as could be, nowhere near as effective as he was in 1996's 'Scream,' and only sells a single one-liner for maximum laughs: When Brynner comes into Darlene's Diner, Tim's place of employment, he asks him if he owns the restaurant. 'Yeah,' replies Tim, 'everyone calls me Darlene.'
'Chill Factor' sets up its basic premise in the first half-hour, which is the most well-written section of the film, then turns into an adrenaline-pumping actioner for the middle thirty minutes, and then drags itself out in the final one-third simply to qualify as a full-length feature. From beginning to end, we watch the characters, story, and screenplay go strictly through the conventions of an ordinary action film, hoping for the moment when a twist or abrupt spark of intelligence will occur. They ultimately never come, but those fans of mindless action movies won't be disappointed. After all, you could do a lot worse in the early-September movie season. You could also do a lot better.
©1999 by Dustin Putman