If all the directors currently working on the treadmills of Hollywood, none can have experienced a career so packed with highs and lows as Barbet Schroeder. This French director has experienced the full range of film recognition - from the gushing adulation for the Oscar-friendly Reversal Of Fortune, to the tepid responses to Single White Female and last year's Meryl Streep non-starter, Before And After. He's unlikely to aid his cause with Desperate Measures, his sixth US effort - but at least it's provided him with the chance to finally recreate the kind of movie that he enthused over while growing up en France.
This is movie-making by numbers, where the action combines with thrills and suspense in equal and controlled measures; where choreographed explosions take place with precision timing; and where characters get bumped off in their carefully-allotted time space for supposed maximum effect. There's also the well-worn dynamic of the two lead characters: Garcia's cop is full of parental emotion but isn't afraid to get really nasty when all else fails, and Keaton's psycho is the traditional Hannibal Lecter/Max Cady hybrid - intelligent, cunning and physically threatening, in a muscular, well- oiled body kind of way.
Schroeder handles the tension and morality well, bearing in mind it's his first attempt at an action movie, but the set pieces are hardly inspiring, signalling that the genre just isn't his bag. The cat-and-mouse chase between cop and fugitive is fun but familiar, the car pursuit through busy freeways can be second-guessed all the way, and the finale atop a 120-foot drawbridge is, frankly, drab.
But when all else fails, and Garcia becomes boring (sorry, it does happen) Keaton's deranged villain keeps the interest going. He snarls his lines with relish and is seen to have a great deal of fun when everyone else seems intent on acting up. Perhaps if the whole production had followed Keaton's lead and favoured fun rather than serious storytelling, then Desperate Measures could have proved a far more interesting exercise in colouring book film-making.
A thoroughly preposterous piece of paper-thin hokum, Desperate Measures does its desperate best to please, and through some determined playing by Keaton, just about manages to do so. Destined to do better on video.