Chill Factor

USA 1999

Reviewed by Kim Newman


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Horn Island, 1987. Working for the US military, Dr Richard Long tests an experimental defoliant which proves more powerful than he first thought when it kills 18 men. An inquiry unjustly blames Captain Andrew Brynner, who is sentenced to 10 years in prison. Once released, Brynner recruits a crew of mercenaries and plots to steal the defoliant, code-named Elvis, from Long's laboratory in Jerome, Montana.

Long is fatally wounded during the raid but escapes with Elvis, which he passes on to his fishing partner Tim Mason, an employee in a local diner. Long tells Mason the defoliant will combust to devastating effect if its temperature rises above 50 degrees. Tim coerces the ice-cream delivery man Arlo to store Elvis in his refrigerated truck. Together, they travel across the state, pursued by Brynner. Brynner makes contact with Tim via mobile phone and tries to talk the young man into handing over Elvis, which he plans to sell to the highest bidder. Tim and Arlo refuse. Brynner captures Arlo and tries to force Tim to hand over Elvis; Tim instead delivers a mock-up of the defoliant in exchange for Arlo. Having escaped from Brynner, Tim and Arlo are cornered in a road tunnel by Deputy Pappas, a policeman who thinks Tim is responsible for Long's murder. They are sealed inside the tunnel by Colonel Vitelli, who's responsible for retrieving the stolen defoliant. Tim persuades Pappas of his innocence; Arlo helps the deputy get the trapped motorists to safety while Brynner makes a last bid for Elvis. Arlo and Tim escape as Elvis detonates, killing Brynner.


Following Broken Arrow and Hard Rain, Chill Factor belongs to the one-damn-thing-after-another genre of action movies. Taking elements from earlier suspense films and tossing them together like a salad, Chill Factor seems to have been pitched as an answer to such questions as 'what would Speed have been like if the bomb were hooked up to a thermometer' or 'how would The Wages of Fear (1953) have played out had the nitro-laden trucks trundling over dangerous roads been pursued by a crew of ninja mercenaries?' The problem with these hybrid concepts is that great suspense usually comes from the simplest of premises. Such advice is lost on the makers of Chill Factor: as they pile up yet more unlikely dilemmas for the film's two heroes, the terror we're supposed to be anticipating - established by a fairly impressive defoliant explosion in the prologue - gets lost in the mix. Given the dramatic potential of a doomsday device that has to be kept cold, Chill Factor fails even to make much of the blazing Montana sun and loses all credibility as the defoliant, named Elvis (cue the inevitable "Elvis has left the building" line), is thrown all over the place by heroes and villains alike.

Debut director Hugh Johnson, previously a cinematographer for Ridley Scott (White Squall, G.I. Jane), is bloodied with the required ridiculous set pieces: a stolen boat tobogganing down a thickly wooded hillside, a wide truck edging along a crumbling mountain road. Unfortunately the production - with its protracted cross-state car-chase sequence - feels somewhat cramped, evoking 70s television series The Dukes of Hazzard rather than the work of action supremos James Cameron and Jan De Bont. Chill Factor is further burdened with a script that hammers home all its points with crushing obviousness (an early monologue on fly-fishing gives Tim, determined to prevent the defoliant from falling into the hands of the villain, the idea of mocking up a bogus Elvis).

Most dramatic weight falls on Peter Firth, an English actor cast as an American villain. His character Brynner is at least unusual in that his army career has been compromised by his unwillingness to condone the murders of civilians in Vietnam and his "moral objections" to ambitious scientist Long's research. Having been turned into a regulation mercenary mastermind during years spent unjustly in prison, Brynner carries on like a fanatical fiend to get his hands on Elvis, though Tim and sidekick Arlo's public-spirited actions cause the odd challenge to his cynicism ("So, a pair of average citizens have decided to risk their lives for their country. I almost remember what that feels like"). Since it is impossible for a young Hollywood actor to get ahead without an action movie on the CV, one can't blame Cuba Gooding Jr and Skeet Ulrich for accepting such a ropy vehicle. This said, neither Ulrich's brooding intensity nor Gooding's funky panic act (he whines throughout the stunt work) add much to the enterprise.


Hugh Johnson
James G. Robinson
Drew Gitlin
Mike Cheda
Director of Photography
David Gribble
Pamela Power
Production Designer
Jeremy Conway
Hans Zimmer
John Powell
©Morgan Creek Productions
Production Company
James G. Robinson presents a Morgan Creek production
Executive Producers
Jonathan A. Zimbert
Bill Bannerman
Jeff Neuman
Martin Wiley
Associate Producers
David Robinson
Terrance Michael
Production Supervisor
Ann A. Dunsford
Production Office Co-ordinator
Christopher Stark
2nd Unit Production
Ann A. Dunsford
Unit Production Managers
Don West
George Manasse
Location Managers
Stephen Yetman
Steve Rhea
Utah Location:
Michael J. Burmeister
2nd Unit:
Michael J. Burmeister
Post-production Supervisor
Omneya 'Nini' Mazen
2nd Unit Director
Billy Burton
Assistant Directors
Artist Robinson
Jayson Merrill
Maria Battle Campbell
2nd Unit:
John G. Scotti
Amy Schmidt
Charles Simmers
Script Supervisors
Deirdre Horgan
2nd Unit:
Susana Preston
Pam Dixon Mickelson
Barbara Harris
Shay Bentley-Griffin
Barbara Allen
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Jerry G. Callaway
Camera Operators
Paul Varrieur
John Winner
Jeffrey J. Tufano
Joseph C. D'Alessandro
Nik Petrik
2nd Unit:
Bob Horne
Jeffrey J. Tufano
2nd Unit/Aerial:
Michael Kelem
2nd Unit, Additional:
Bob Ulland
Lynn Lockwood
Visual Effects/Animation
Special Effects
Michael Vezina
Rigging Co-ordinator:
Perry Beckham
2nd Unit, Co-ordinator:
Stewart Bradley
2nd Unit, Key:
Bob Trevino
Art Director
Fredda Slavin
Set Designers
Colleen Balance
Kevin Hardison
Glenn Rivers
Michael Ward
Set Decorators
Claudette Didul-Mann
Utah Location:
Rob Bennett
Len Morganti
Tracy Wilson
Costume Designer
Deborah Everton
Wardrobe Supervisor
Gala Autumn
Rick Pour
Body Artists:
Sarah Mays
Darwin Hensley
2nd Unit, Key Artist:
Darwin Hensley
Prosthetic/Animatronic Effects
Steve Johnson's XFX Group
Jo Jo Guthrie
Taylor Knight
2nd Unit, Key:
Rita Troy
Pacific Title/Mirage
Additional Music
Klaus Badelt
Jeff Rona
James Smith
Geoff Zanelli
Score Co-ordination
François Blaignan
Music Editor
Adam Smalley
Score Mixer
Malcolm Luker
Sound Design
Bruce Stambler
Production Sound Mixer
Peter J. Devlin
Re-recording Engineer
Michael A. Morongel
Re-recording Mixers
Chris David
Ken Teaney
Terry Rodman
Eddie Bydalek
Rhan Small
Supervising Sound Editor
Terry Rodman
Dialogue Editors
Mildred Iatrou
Kimberly Lowe Voight
Additional Sound Effects
Gary Blufer
Sound Effects Editors
Steve Mann
Joseph DiVitale
Steve Nelson
Brian T. Best
Jay Nierenberg
Juno J. Ellis
Thor Benitez
Matt Beville
Denise Horta
Kevin Bartnof
Catherine Harper
Eric Gotthelf
Supervising Editor:
Bob Beher
Military Adviser
Mike Stokey
Stunt Co-ordinator
Gary Hymes
Aerial Co-ordinator
Geoffrey Charles Palmer
Animal Wranglers
Philip Hoelcher
Nancy Little
Helicopter Camera Pilot
Geoffrey Charles Palmer
Helicopter Pilots
Ray McCort
Ronald Irvin Smith
Barry Weigele
Cuba Gooding Jr
Skeet Ulrich
Tim Mason
Peter Firth
Captain Andrew Brynner
David Paymer
Dr Richard Long
Hudson Leick
Daniel Hugh Kelly
Colonel Leo Vitelli
Kevin J. O'Connor
Judson Mills
Jordan Mott
Dwayne Macopson
Jim Grimshaw
Deputy Pappas
Richard Todd Aguayo
K. Addison Young
ranger at dam
James Van Harper
ranger in hopper
Tommy Smeltzer
Deputy Art Lewis
Geoff Palmer
Vitelli's helicopter pilot
Rhoda Griffis
pregnant woman
Johnny Cenicola
little boy
Larry Black
fat man in tunnel
David Shark Fralick
blond biker
Garrett Warren
bearded biker
Ron Clinton Smith
Stephen Robert
Vitelli's lieutenant
Quint Von Canon
Bart Hansard
crew members
Howard Carroll
Volvo driver
Lonnie Smith
Johnell Gainy
ranger sergeant at tech site
Martin Valinsky
big ranger at tech site
Terry Loughlin
courtroom general
Bob Penny
motel manager
Richie Dye
Ice Cream Andy
Mike Davis
Afemo Omilami
courtroom colonel
Steve Coulter
Phillip De Vona
young guard
Suzi Bass
George A. Johnson
hardware store owner
Tim Dabbs
Gomez's pilot
Camden Dixon
Peter MacKenzie
Wanda Acuna
Erin Daniels
Jason Cairns
male medic
Warner Bros Distributors (UK)
9,162 feet
101 minutes 48 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
In colour
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011