MILK CARTON CINEMA: “CHILL FACTOR” Image

No Idea Atoll

As action thrillers go, “Chill Factor” takes its time getting to anything approximating thrills – or action. We begin in 1977 with a 15-minute intro of military maneuvers on an isolated Pacific island, surrounding the mid-secret experiment of a new herbicide. The people involved explain things to each other that they already know, and in detail, but this allows us to understand that the military is trying out a new chemical, code named “Elvis”, meant to eradicate plants more efficiently. Possibly this was an effort to bring down that nefarious Herbalife empire. The experiment is overseen by Dr. Long (Paymer) and his scientists in their state-of-the-art laboratory, which is illuminated like the local video arcade.

Just as the experiment is underway, they calculate that “Elvis” will act less like a defoliant than an exfoliant. Instead of clear-cutting a few acres it will have a burn radius of 5 miles and incinerate everything on the island, including the soldiers and the most popular Hard Rock Café in the Pacific Rim. (Maybe they forgot to carry the one.) As they watch the carnage, Dr. Long utters the clunky line, “I am become death…The destroyer of worlds.” The symbolism of this clumsy syntax is that it was at one time uttered by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer as he watched his A-bomb during its initial test. This becomes a testimony to artistic theft as Dr. Oppenheimer himself lifted this line from the “Bhagavad-Gita”, a delightful parallel in a movie that is stolen from a “Die-Hard” clone.

Even though the carnage was obviously a result of the chemists fouling things, the military decides that Commander Andrew Brynner should shoulder the blame and he gets dealt a sentence doing ten the hard way in the brig. As he is cooling his heels, Brynner incubates a grandiose revenge so intricately convoluted that he could write screenplays for a living. To execute his scheme he will need a squadron of SUV’s outfitted for military action, the plans to the security system of an Army holding facility, a dozen trained mercenaries who sign-on to his reprisal scenario without questioning his sanity, and enough venture capitol to start his own company and put his military troubles behind him. Not an easy game plan to orchestrate from solitary confinement, but the plucky officer has it all in place by the time his sentence is served.

Ten years later, we cut to Montana where Dr. Long is paying his own sort of penance by having to go fly fishing with a crabby short-order cook with a cloudy past named Mason, played by Skeet Ulrich. Their sessions in the creek bed involve the doctor expounding on the philosophy of angling while Mason b*****s about not being able to catch anything. What is never explained is how a chemist with a Masters in atomic alchemy becomes a fishing buddy with a truck-stop burger-flipper with a grunge wardrobe and a crappier attitude, but if the doctor is not troubled by their union then who am I to grouse about it?

One side note that I found curious is that the role of the state of Montana was played here by South Carolina, which begs the question, why did it require a stand-in? I cannot fathom that there are film technologies lacking in Montana that can be found in South Carolina. My guess is that all the movie stars with ranches in Big-Sky Country lobbied to keep the Hollywood types out of “their” state.

After another day of fishing and complaining, the doctor and Skeet meet at the diner. This is the moment when Brynner, fresh off his stint, drops in to catch up on things, and Dr. Long suspects that he has evil intentions, and so he races to a military base where the chemical is being stored. I take this to mean that the military actually keeps a warehouse full of their failed and highly lethal components. Apparently they keep “Elvis” in an asbestos container next to a few drums of Agent Orange and Lewisite in the contagion wing of the PX.

Brenner’s gang storms the facility with ease, but they find that the chemical is missing—and no, they could not resist saying, “Elvis has left the building”. Dr. Long’s love of fishing becomes his undoing as Brynner spies a midge with a hook on the floor of the lab along with some blood from an errant bullet. This leads him and his team to come to the slightly ridiculous conclusion that they should check in on the diner again. Highly ridiculous was the doctor going to the diner at four in the morning while hemorrhaging like he has a hydraulic line with a cracked fitting. Before he expires, he explains to Mason in sharp detail that he has to keep “Elvis” below 50 degrees and drive it 90 miles to a military base, or Montana will have not five, but hundreds of miles wiped out. Apparently “Elvis” increased in strength twenty-fold while it was on the shelf and now it endangers the cattle ranches of Whoopie Goldberg and Huey Lewis.

Get the rest of the story in part three of MILK CARTON CINEMA: “CHILL FACTOR”>>>

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