Family Movie Night: Chain Reaction (1996)

With a kid under the weather after some dental work, it was a good night for a family movie. The library provided the convenient loan of a nostalgia pick for Becky and me: Chain Reaction, the 1996 film starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, and Rachel Weisz.

If you’d asked me before I looked it up, I would’ve guessed this came out when I was still in high school, since I remember watching it a handful of times back in what feels like that timeframe. But, since it came out in ‘96, I probably watched it for the first time at the dollar theater in Longview, TX while I was in college, probably with Becky along on a cheap date.

My first thought when starting the movie was “wow, this reminds me in a lot of ways of The Fugitive”. All the Chicago scenery, a bunch of the same guys playing Chicago cops, familiar shots of midwestern woods and small waterways… then I looked it up on IMDB and quite belatedly realized that Andrew Davis directed both movies. No surprise then, that they look the same.

The plot is about as spare as I remember it – Reeves’ team makes some scientific breakthrough to generate cheap electricity from hydrogen, and his lab is blown up before they can publicize. Morgan Freeman is the shifty leader of the foundation providing Reeves’ funding, who may or may not be bankrolled by the CIA. That’s about as much plot as you need, as the middle of the movie ends up being a series of chases across a drawbridge in downtown Chicago, a frozen lake (with a fan-powered airboat!) in Wisconsin, and through the Natural History museum in Washington DC.

Chain Reaction is innocuous enough, drawing just enough charisma from Morgan Freeman and enough action through the Chicago landscape to keep the family at least mildly interested for 100 minutes. I was surprised at how much of it I remembered, having not watched it for more than a decade.

Mostly, though, now it just makes me want to watch The Fugitive. Same Chicago chase scenes, but Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford as the cat and mouse… if only they’d had a role for Morgan Freeman in it, they might’ve really had something.

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