' Cinema Romantico: This One Scene in Chain Reaction with Kevin Dunn

Thursday, October 01, 2015

This One Scene in Chain Reaction with Kevin Dunn

Bear with me and this post might make sense. (Might, I said, though we here at Cinema Romantico make no promises about “sense” or “points”.) It all began with a dream, and not a dream like Robert Fulton and the steamboat, but a dream you have while you’re asleep. In late August I had a dream involving an Ice Boat somewhere on some frozen lake. I don’t remember much else. I imagine this was my subconscious pining for winter in the midst of summer’s insufferable humid sop but who knows? That’s for dreamologists to debate and I don’t know any. The point is, when I awoke, suddenly, with images of an Ice Boat still dancing in my head, I returned in my now-awake mind to 1996’s Keanu-infused action-adventure opus “Chain Reaction” because 1.) I’m a complete idiot who brings everything down to movies and 2.) There is a scene in “Chain Reaction” that involves Keanu and his fugitive-ish accomplice Rachel Weisz making a dramatic escape aboard an Ice Boat.

So a couple weeks later with the Toronto International Film Festival imminent, when I simply could not stomach one more Top 10 Movies To See At TIFF list, I made a Top 10 Not-At-TIFF Movies To See list. As I composed it, I remembered my dream and “Chain Reaction”, which I hadn’t thought about in years. I wanted a screen cap of Ms. Weisz onboard the Ice Boat. As it turns out, those are tough to find. Ah, but someone, perhaps an Andrew Davis devotee, had uploaded all of “Chain Reaction” to Youtube and it was still there, if only because copyright law doesn’t much concern 20th Century Fox in the case of “Chain Reaction.”

I started watching, merely with the intent to fast forward to the Ice Boat sequence. But oddly, or perhaps because I had a cocktail in hand, or maybe because I’m an idiot, I found myself drawn in to this mediocre movie, possibly because it’s set in Chicago and I live in Chicago and when I watched it lo so many years ago in a Des Moines movie theater I had no idea that I would live in Chicago and walk across that bridge that Keanu slides down which I’m usually walking across in a harried attempt to make a movie on time which means I have to sashay around tourists like Ameer Abdullah because I’m a ten-year Chitown veteran, yo, and that’s what we do – we complain about tourists.

But let me skip ahead to this past Sunday. While eating lunch, I watched, like, four minutes of “Veep.” I’ve never seen it and I probably won’t watch anymore of it even though I’m sure it’s brilliant and please spare me your “you’ve gotta watch it” rants because we know my policy on TV (that is – I’d always rather be watching a movie) and the point here isn’t really “Veep” itself. The point is, “Veep” apparently stars Kevin Dunn. I can’t believe no one mentions this more. Then again, I can. I mean, JLD is JLD. Tony Hale is beloved and Anna Chlumsky should be a superstar and Gary Cole is a character actor extraordinaire. But you do know who else is a character actor extraordinaire? KEVIN DUNN, THAT’S WHO.


My man Alex has you covered on that count. He went all in last year on summarizing Mr. Dunn as one of our more capable character actors. Dunn is a “that guy” and a damn good one too. You need one guy to show up in the comic escapade “Hot Shots!” and not be funny? That’s Dunn. You need someone to put on the fatigues in “Godzilla” and shout a lot? That’s Dunn. You need someone to portray Nixon’s Hatchet Man? That’s Dunn. You need someone back at base command to yell at Denzel Washington and be wrong about everything? That’s Dunn. Of course, Dunn is such a valuable cinematic resource because outfits each of these parts with genuine behavior. You know how sports announcers always like to say of certain players that what they do doesn’t show up on the stat sheet? That’s Dunn. What he does fails to appear on the stat sheet. But it’s there, in plain sight. To wit…

So I’m watching “Chain Reaction”. And in it, Dunn plays the FBI Agent summoned after this big explosion that Keanu escapes by the awe-inspiring speed of his motorcycle because it’s still Hollywood even if it’s Chicago. Except that Dunn isn’t the main FBI agent; Fred Ward is. Dunn is the other FBI Agent which is so immaculately Kevin Dunn. As they arrive at the location of the explosion, they have the following conversation. (You can watch the scene here. Fast forward to about 17:30.)

Ward: “Have the locals move the perimeter back about a thousand feet.”
Dunn: “You got it.”
Ward: “Find me a friendly judge. I want wiretaps, search warrants, on everyone that worked here. I want it ten minutes ago.”
Dunn: “All right.”

It sounds like nothing much, of course, particularly in the case of Dunn. But then, that’s the secret to a That Guy. The whole movie takes place during a harsh Chicago winter and this scene is set outdoors in the thick of the freezing Midwest; you can see the characters’ breath. A Chicago winter is a glacial affair. “The liquid in your eyes would freeze,” I heard some woman on the elevator tell her companion the other day as a means to describe Chicago in January. Winter here makes you so frozen inside that when you’re walking and talking you might be able to make sense of what the other person is saying but the temperature is low it prevents any response other than terse acknowledgement. And that’s precisely how Dunn plays it. The “You got it” is a man not wearing a stocking cap outdoors on a severely cold morning who can barely feel his face. The “All right” is a man who’ll get this done, sure, all right, but seriously, can we go somewhere warm first and get a damn cup of coffee?


He was born in Chicago so he understands the intensity of this frigidity. Maybe he called on that experience in playing this scene. However he harnessed it, he did, and he turned a handful of seconds, barely a blip in The Grand Scheme of Things into something special, because Kevin Dunn doesn’t take those seconds off.

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