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Tucson Weekly Lethal Speed, Beep-Beep!

The Derivative 'Chill Factor' Is Far From Cool.

By James DiGiovanna

SEPTEMBER 7, 1999:  HEGEL, THE EARLY 19th-century German philosopher whose ideas birthed both Nazism and Communism, postulated in 1807 that history was nearly finished. Nearly 200 years later, this claim seems a bit ridiculous; but like all philosophers, Hegel meant a good deal more than what he seemed to be saying. As Hegel watched Napoleon invade the tiny town of Jena, he thought that perhaps the entire world was on the verge of becoming one, and that the struggles between competing ideologies that had shaped history would come to an end.

Instead of radical change and reformation, Hegel imagined that someday we would lack the internal and external social strife necessary to spur radical originality. Thus, we would come to a state where we would simply re-combine our existing notions to create "new" ideas in politics, the sciences, and the arts.

For Hegel, then, the "end of history" would merely mark the beginning of that time when creativity was replaced by re-combination. With the arrival of Chill Factor, Hegel's prophecy has at last come true. No reviewer will describe this film without saying something about the movie Speed. Few will finish writing their critiques without a mention of Lethal Weapon. Difficult to resist will be the comparison of Skeet Ulrich's person to a mesh of Johnny Depp's body and Keanu Reeves' brain. And an astute handful will note that the stunts and setting of the story are derived largely from Roadrunner cartoons.

Let us begin, then: Skeet Ulrich, who somehow manages to package Keanu Reeves brain inside Johnny Depp's body, stars in this thriller about a chemical weapon on the loose. Ulrich and co-star Cuba Gooding Jr., whose buddy chemistry is more than a little reminiscent of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series, must get this weapon to the safety of a Montana army base. But there's a twist: much as the movie Speed focused frequently on the speedometer of a bus set to explode if it went below 50 miles an hour, Chill Factor turns to a thermometer stuck in the chemical weapon, which must be kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or it will explode.

Zigging through curvy, cliff-side roads in a make-believe Montana (Chill Factor was actually shot in South Carolina and Utah), the duo make like the Roadrunner as they are chased by Coyote-esque villains who want to sell the weapon to the highest bidder at the international terrorist version of eBay (the latter being an online auction house, for the uninitiated).

There. All the factors are in place...but what about the small features that set this film apart from all others? Well, it's a "buddy movie"...but the buddies don't really get along! And in a mind-warping twist on the usual buddy movie fare, one of the buddies is a Caucasian male, the other, an African American! Furthermore, the lead villain and the army colonel who has been sent to intercept him used to be on the same side, having served three tours of duty together in Vietnam!

But wait, there's more! Not all the villains are male! One is an extremely thin and beautiful woman! And further: the villains and the hot Montana day are not the only things that stand in our heroes' way: other stuff happens, like their truck breaking down, and run-ins with a small town cop who's out to get Skeet Ulrich just because he's different! (Not to give anything away, but guess which small-town cop and which Skeet Ulrich learn in the end that they have to work together, for the greater good?)

"Stupid" seems to be the operative word in discussing Chill Factor. It has all those little touches that make you want to yell at the screen...like Ulrich and Gooding complaining about the heat while inexplicably wearing heavy leather jackets...or an outcropping of rock mysteriously appearing above the road just when it's needed to knock a bad guy in the head...or the insanely fortuitous appearance of chests of ice just when the chemical weapon is reaching 49.8 degrees.

On the other hand, Chill Factor understands the most important rule of bad filmmaking: keep it moving. It's never boring, and if you're willing to suspend disbelief when Wile E. Coyote's rocket sled hits his Acme Giant Rubber band and launches him into the next county, then hell, you can sit through Chill Factor while waiting for such fall films as Titanic: The Revenge, Aliens V: Franchise, Batman Reneges and As Good as It Gets II: Better Yet!


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