Grantwatch Update: Extreme Measures (1996)

Monday October 31st 2011


It’s been over two months since I started Grantwatch, my heroic quest to view every Hugh Grant movie ever produced and rank them in order of brilliance, and many of you have expressed disappointment than I’ve only worked my way through five as of yet. What’s more, the five I’ve absorbed thus far are all bona fide Grant classics, rather than say … Sirens, or The Lair of the White Worm. With that in mind I rented both Mickey Blue Eyes and Extreme Measures this weekend, and while the former is completely amazing as well, it’s the latter I really want to talk to you about.

Released in 1996 and produced by Grant’s then-girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley, Extreme Measures sees Hugh play Guy Luthan (surely that’s one of the all-time best Grant character names?), an ER doctor at a New York inner city hospital. Written by Tony Gilroy, who went on to do the Bourne movies, and directed by Michael Apted, best known for the Up series of documentaries, the film offers no real explanation for the presence of an England fop in the gritty, urban environs of the hospital, and with the exception of a few clumsy references from his coworkers (“This is not England. This is not the National-Royal-Shakespeare-pick-up-the-tab healthcare system, okay?”) Grant’s incongruity goes completely unmentioned. It’s a fish out of water story in which neither the fish nor anybody else seems aware of his ‘out of water’ status.

Still, when he can deliver lines like this, who cares?

The film is only available on DVD in 4:3 pan-and-scan, so there’s a good chance I missed some vital details, but from where I was sitting it’s completely fucking insane. The plot concerns Grant’s investigation of a sinister medical organisation run by Gene Hackman, who may or may not be kidnapping homeless people and subjecting them to surgical experiments (spoiler alert: he is). Hackman’s henchmen include J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn and David Morse, but only the latter is given any kind of back story, as eloquently illustrated in the following clip:

HIS WIFE’S ALL ILL AND SHIT!

HE’S LOST HIS FAITH IN JESUS!

HE’S GOT A GUN!

Grant isn’t given much in the way of complexity either, though there is a sort-of love interest in the form of a pre-Sex and the City Sarah Jessica Parker (thirteen years before they reunited in Did You Hear About The Morgans?) and a weird friendship with a homeless hypochondriac named Bobby. And if you’re imagining how awkward Grant might look in those scenes, times it by twenty and you’re closer to the truth. It’s fucking joyous.

A rare excursion into drama (but with its fair share of inadvertent comedy), Extreme Measures is fascinating less as a box office flop than as career misstep that may well have dissuaded Grant from taking more risks in the years that followed. Nonetheless, it’s always exciting seeing H-G in unfamiliar surroundings, and they don’t come much less familiar than an opening scene in which he treats two gunshot victims simultaneously. It may not be perfect, or even ‘good’ per se, but Extreme Measures is — at the very least — deserving of a .gif wall.