This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Last April at the University of Colorado, wounded by students who jeered at my affectionate review of "Speed 2: Cruise Control," I recklessly announced a contest to make a film named "Speed 3." Entries couldn't be more than five minutes long and had to be about something that couldn't go slower than 50 miles an hour. First prize: A DVD of "Speed 2," a standing ovation (optional), and screenings at Colorado and at my Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois.
"Chill Factor" looks exactly like the first entry in my contest, but I have reluctantly had to disqualify it because it exceeds the time limit by 97 minutes, and it's not about speed but temperature. With just a tweak here and there, however, it could qualify as a parody of "Speed" -- one of those "Airplane!"-type spoofs by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker. Where are the ZAZ boys when we need them?
I promise you the movie is played straight. It is really supposed to be a thriller and we are really supposed to be thrilled. I explain that to prepare the ground for the information that the story involves a chemical weapon that cannot be allowed to grow warmer than 50 degrees, and about two brave citizens who try to keep it away from evil terrorists by keeping it in the back of a speeding ice cream truck. Yes. There is also a sequence where they use an aluminum rowboat as a toboggan, sliding down a steep hill into a river, where the dangerous substance can be dragged behind the boat because the stream is "fed by glaciers."
The heroes are played by Skeet Ulrich, who thinks he is in a Jerry Bruckheimer production, and Cuba Gooding Jr., who has been in "Jerry Maguire" for the last four years, including Oscar appearances. The biological weapon has been developed by Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer), whose dialogue seems to have been phoned in by the team of Carl Sagan and Mephistopheles. Early on he announces an "epiphany" about a "new molecular configuration," in which, as I murkily recall, he plans to remove atoms from one side of his molecules and stick them on the other side instead. He discovers that his plan is flawed when a test goes wrong, defoliating not 200 yards of a remote island, but five miles. Eighteen soldiers die, their flesh erupting like cheese on a burnt pizza. "Oh, my God!" he cries. "I am become Death--the destroyer of worlds."