Desperate Measures, starring Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia, is a movie about two intense men who will let nothing stand in their way. Garcia is cast as a devoted father who happens to be a member of the San Francisco Police Department. Like the original SFPD cop, Dirty Harry, Garcia has a quiet intensity that pulls him through the movie. However, this character is less of a collected cynic than a hapless bungler. Keaton, as an intelligent, but psychopathic career criminal, uses his intensity to project a feeling of complete control and hidden power. It is sad that these two characters were not allowed to interact in a more interesting fashion.
The movie opens with Garcia and a fellow policeman breaking into an FBI branch and using a computer to search for a genetic match for Garcia’s son. Soon it is revealed that his son has leukemia, and needs a bone marrow transplant immediately. However, the only compatible person that Garcia finds is a hardened murderer named Peter McCabe.
Keaton’s McCabe seems quite familiar at first, as his restraints immediately remind one of Hannibal Lecter. When Garcia asks McCabe to donate some of his bone marrow so that his son will live, McCabe reflects upon the irony of the situation, noting that even after all the lengths the government has taken to lock him away, he once again has the opportunity to kill.
The two reach an impasse and Garcia leaves, but soon McCabe changes his mind and decides to proceed with the operation. He, of course, has several conditions to his agreement, all of which help McCabe arrange his eventual escape. In this way the movie seemed believable, because the method of escape was plausible.
It is here where the movie really begins, when McCabe makes a break for it after being unsuccessfully anesthetized. The audience knows what must happen â€” there will be a long chase sequence before the villain is finally caught by Garcia. The moral twist of this movie is that Garcia must keep McCabe alive so that they can complete the bone marrow transplant. Because he needs Keaton’s character alive, the loving father tends to sacrifice both his morals and his better judgment so that he can keep his son’s hopes alive.
What seemed like an interesting twist tends to play out rather poorly though, for the men trying to catch McCabe are inept and Garcia isn’t as adept as he could be. Explosions happen infrequently and are rarely spectacular. There also seems to be a lack of tension because McCabe’s plans are not revealed or even hinted at. Most importantly, the dramatic scenes between Garcia and his son’s doctor tend to be drawn out and boring. The doctor, the only woman with a leading role, seems helpless around these men with guns, and when she attempts to act fails miserably.
Keaton seems to be the only man with his wits about him as he coolly dispatches cops while never missing a step. At one point the police captain asks, “How many more have to die so that that kid can live?” This question seems to be answered simply through the movie: as many people as possible. While Garcia continues to make stupid mistakes that cost the lives of his fellow officers, he begins to recognize that he has crossed over from good to evil. Indeed, his passion for his son is so blind that even Keaton notices and commends it. Near the end of the long chase through the hospital, McCabe spends a few minutes with Garcia’s son, and seems to develop a mild sense of guilt over his decision to escape.
At this point McCabe has become the protagonist, and it becomes nearly impossible not to cheer for his escapades. With his witty thoughts and manic eyes, Keaton makes this convict seem more human than his captors, and through this captures the audience. The ending is especially delicious, for it admits that we still feel more for a murderer than for the system which keeps trying to chain him. It has been a long time since a movie has recognized the sophistication of a “bad guy”, and it is a pity that Keaton’s character was trapped in this mediocre movie.