Chill Factor (1999) Hugh Johnson

Production Budget: $34 million

Gross: about $12 million

There was a covert military operation to test out a new pesticide codenamed Elvis.  When the substance went over 50 degrees, the substance became extremely unstable causing untold damage and killing several soldiers.  The military officer in charge we sent to Leavenworth for his negligence and 10 years later, that officer is out and after the substance along with a band of mercenaries.  The only thing that stands between him and Elvis is a short order cook Tim (Skeet Ulrich) and a wisecracking ice cream truck driver Arlo (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

But you don’t need to know all that.  All you need to know is this is the movie where both Ulrich’s and Gooding’s career took a steep nose dive.  Now I don’t want to credit this for killing Cuba’s career.  After all, it is almost expected that actors have a slump picture after winning an award, but it seemed he chose a pic tailor made to take away any cred he earned with his previous good work.  After that, he went on to do Pearl Harbor, Rat Race, Snow Dogs, and Boat Trip.

I think his downfall was due to people (either Gooding himself or producers) not really knowing how to use him.  Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire was really a great role in that you had a person who was your typical diva over the top wide receiver, while behind closed doors he had some personal and moving scenes.  But it is like people saw that movie (in particular the show me the money scene) and thought the people must love him because he’s so funny.  There he becomes like a high class Chris Tucker who shows up in shit like Snow Dogs, Boat Trip, and Daddy Day Camp.  Gooding tried returning to dramatic roles but they ended up being either too melodramatic (Men of Honor), too bizarre (Instinct), or too embarrassing (Radio) for people to handle.

But I am rambling as I often do.  Chill Factor is another example of Gooding being cast in the role of token black sidekick.  You know, the gratingly annoying kind of sidekick complete with stock phrases like “Aw hell nah!” and almost racially offensive overtones.  I don’t want to dig too deep into motivations, but it is a little sad that a movie capitalizing on Cuba’s success sees him not as the hero of the movie, but the wisecracking shrill comic relief.  His banter in this movie is really painful to listen to.  You see, Arlo just wants to sell his ice cream and steal the money earned to stick it to his boss, and he has no desire to save the US from annihilation.  So you get scenes of Tim and Arlo endlessly bickering about how they need to save the country but the ice cream sandwiches are melting and blah blah blah blah blah.  The rest of the acting doesn’t do much better.  Ulrich is actually alright as an actor (I liked him well enough in Jericho) but his character is too much of a bland straight arrow to have any personality.  I also love Peter Firth (MI-5 or Spooks as its called in England) but he too doesn’t have any material to work with.

The movie is kind of modeled after Speed but replace a bus with an ice cream truck and you get the gist.  Except where Speed was inventive in getting that bus to do everything it wasn’t supposed to, Chill Factor doesn’t have much in the way of good action.  We have the bad guys chasing the truck in motorcycles and a fight on the roof of the truck.  There are a few other minor things but that is about it.  I guess more emphasis is spent on the “comedy” but that obviously doesn’t pay off.

For example, the big running joke of the movie is that the substance is code named Elvis.  This is the excuse to use every Elvis one liner in the book like “Elvis has taken the stage” or “Elvis has left the building” or “You want Elvis? The king is dead, go buy a CD.”  There aren’t enough rimshots in the world to make that funny and it speaks to the writing when this is their big comeback joke.  Put this in with the endless bickering I was talking about earlier and you have a headache causing road movie.  What’s also odd is that for all the campy jokes and attempts at being lighthearted it has some dark moments.  For example we see the soldiers in the beginning getting their flesh being melted off in what is supposed to be an unsettling scene as well as some other harsh violence and you have wild tonal swings.

As much as I complain, this isn’t one of the worst I have ever seen.  Nowhere close.  This movie fails, but it doesn’t fail spectacularly as I usually say.  It was a cheap cash in buddy flick with bad humor and while it sucks, there are worse forms of torture on the planet.  Chill Factor is not bad enough for bad movie aficionados, and is nowhere near a good action movie.  Just skip it altogether.


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