Reviewing Fox's latest mega-round of titles hitting Blu-ray this week has felt a bit like a weird mid '90s acid flashback (for a taste, see my recent reviews of 'Broken Arrow' and 'The Usual Suspects'). Even the releases of newer vintage ('Entrapment,' 'The Sentinel') feel like throwbacks. That trend continues with 'Chain Reaction,' a 1996 film with such a shopworn plot and amazingly dull action sequences that it could have just as easily been made a decade earlier.
Keanu "Whoa!" Reeves stars as Eddie Kasalivich, a student at the University of Chicago who is taking part in a special project to develop a radical, alternative energy source. Aided by mentor Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman) Eddie's team makes a breakthrough, leading a group of shady corporate types to plot to take over the discovery. The lab demolished, the head of research killed, and the precious invention stolen, all signs point toward Eddie, who has been framed as part of a massive conspiracy plot. With only fellow researcher Lily Sinclair (future Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz) by his side, Eddie must track down the device, find out who is behind the conspiracy, and clear his name.
As hokey as its plot may be, I honestly expected to enjoy 'Chain Reaction' a lot more than I did. I love corrupt government/big business thrillers, from such '70s classics as 'The China Syndrome' and 'Network' to the recent 'Erin Brockovich.' Even total crap monster movies like 'Prophecy' and 'C.H.U.D.' retain a warm place in my heart because they take the status quo to task for how irresponsibly we treat the planet we all share. 'Chain Reaction' may seem far removed from something like 'China Syndrome,' but they both share a progressive philosophy disguised as just another Hollywood thriller. That Eddie is working on an energy source that uses natural resources, only to see it stolen and corrupted for commercial gain, gives 'Chain Reaction' a political imperative rare for a mainstream Hollywood thriller (at least one produced since the heyday of such fare in the more socially-conscious '70s).
Alas, such high-minded rhetoric doesn't get us very far by the end of the film's 103 minutes. Instead, 'Chain Reaction' quickly turns into a more action-packed version of 1985's 'WarGames.' Which wouldn't have been a bad thing, except director Andrew Davis ('The Fugitive,' 'Under Siege') seems to recognize that the script has some crater-sized plotholes, so he pumps up the set-pieces and visuals in an effort to distract us. The characters, including the rather likable Eddie and Lily, are tossed aside in a third act that's pure generic action, while the film's villains are so one-dimensional that they teeter on the edge of camp. Given its intriguing premise, I was hoping for something a bit more subversive.
All things considered, 'Chain Reaction' delivers on the bottom line as an enjoyable enough little diversion. I just can't help but believe it could have been so much more.
Well, here's a genuine surprise. 'Chain Reaction' is over a decade old and is hardly one of Fox's premiere catalog titles, so I was expecting a completely tossed-off transfer. Instead, it's actually a rather impressive presentation, with a nicely-preserved source that belies its age.
Presented in 1080p/MPEG-2 video, the print is in great shape. I noticed almost no blemishes, speckles or dirt. Grain is also surprisingly minimal -- 'Chain Reaction' certainly looks slick. Colors have been processed a bit, especially the use of heavy blue filtering in the nighttime scenes, but it is not severe. There is also some desaturation of exteriors to give the wintry locations an appropriate chilly feel. Still, I was impressed with how bold and clean colors are -- especially reds, which really pop off the screen. Fleshtones are also generally accurate, with only a slight pinkish cast in select shots. Detail also excels, with a great depth to the image. Finally, there is no noticeable edge enhancement, with the image retaining a striking sharpness despite its age. Only the film's now-dated CGI effects suffer from softness, and a couple of shots here or there have a little bit of noise. To my astonishment, only these small imperfections prevent 'Chain Reaction' from being one of the best Blu-ray catalog transfers I've seen yet from Fox.
'Chain Reaction' also holds up quite nicely in the audio department. Fox pulls out another DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which for a film produced in 1996 still packs plenty of punch.
While the first half of the film is rather bland, the action-filled finale delivers. Discrete effects are fairly well directed to the rears, with good accuracy and nearly-transparent imaging between channels. Otherwise, the mix is pretty front-heavy, and sustained atmosphere is lacking. Dialogue holds firmly, however, and volume balance wasn't an issue. Fidelity is also strong for a ten year-old film, with fat, deep bass and clean highs.
Nothing substantial here -- just the film's Theatrical Trailer in 1080p video. However, there is a Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature...
'Chain Reaction' is a forgettable thriller that's all the more disappointing because of its potentially interesting concept. Still, I can't say I was ever bored so I suppose it it's enjoyable enough. As far as this Blu-ray release goes, the transfer and soundtrack are perfectly nice, and the studio does throw in a Blu-ray-exclusive trivia track. Unfortunately this is hardly one of the format's A-list titles, so at 39.98 list, it's probably only of interest for diehard fans of the movie.