Chain Reaction (1996)
Chain Reaction (1996)

Genre: Action and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: August 2nd, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Andrew Davis Actors: Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn, Brian Cox, Joanna Cassidy, Chelcie Ross, Tzi Ma




e’re running out of time … ” At the University of Chicago, revered scientist Alistair Barkley (Nicholas Rudall) insists that mankind is destroying the world through pollution. Resources are limited, wars are waged over those commodities, and societies are too dependent on fossil fuels for anything to change. New technology is desperately needed – and a team at the institution working on the Hydrogen Energy Project just might be the answer. Joining Alistair are machinist Eddie Kasalivich (Keanu Reeves), Paul Shannon (Morgan Freeman), physicist Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz), project manager Lu Chen (Tzi Ma), Lucasz Screbneski (Krzysztof Pieczynski), and many other doctors and researchers, who work tirelessly to devise a solution using a massive laboratory filled with pipes, tanks, tubes, wires, dials, computers, and all manner of machinery (and flammable gasses).

Sure enough, after a few final trials, Eddie makes a breakthrough – not through techno-babble but through visual-babble, in which various scientific experiments appear to succeed in whatever it is the scientists are attempting to do. But after a celebration with too much champagne, requiring Eddie to take a drunken Lily home, the young whiz returns to the lab only to find it’s been sabotaged. With barely enough time to hop on his motorcycle, Eddie races away from an inevitable, colossal hydrogen explosion that levels a considerable amount of acreage.

With Barkley dead, Chen missing, and Eddie and Lily looking awfully suspicious, it’s not long before FBI Agents Ford (Fred Ward) and Doyle (Kevin Dunn) begin dissecting their lives and homes and tracking them down. After discovering large amounts of cash, a specialized transmitter, and faxes from mainland China, arrest warrants are issued, forcing the wanted duo to go on the run, obviously embroiled in a damning frame-job. “Why would a policeman shoot another policeman?”

With Andrew Davis, the director of “The Fugitive,” at the helm, the attention to scientific elements are second to the suspense and adventure. Plenty of chases ensue, with narrow escapes and harrowing evasive maneuvers. Though they have a few allies to help them elude the authorities, the antagonists are more numerous, composing some complex conspiracies and a wealth of political complications. Some of the villainy is easy enough to guess, but the ways in which the heroes must clear their names, solve the mystery of the espionage, and finger the guilty parties are full of surprises and tension.

Like in “The Fugitive,” high-speed pursuits seem continual, with more than one group of opponents zeroing in. Each time characters get a few lines of exposition, it’s mostly a segue into another chase sequence, revealing precious little information for the audience. It’s a good thing Eddie is such a skilled sleuth (as well as a tough-guy when it comes to physical confrontations), steadily managing to uncover clues and infiltrate sensitive areas (with a sizable amount of luck), while at least one law enforcement agent is interested in the truth rather than an easy collar. Curiously, the hydrogen experiments are ultimately just a loose concept designed to obscure the fact that “Chain Reaction” holds far too many similarities to “The Fugitive” (an easy comparison but one that can’t be ignored), culminating in a rather silly showdown – yet another race, this time against time itself (and a few henchmen), as another significant detonation looms (once again favoring action over resolutions). At least the overarching theme of humankind’s contributions to planetary annihilation grows increasingly more relevant throughout the years; the CG and tech sequences may age poorly, but the message remains potent.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10