Chain Reaction (film)

Chain Reaction (film)
Chain Reaction
Directed by Andrew Davis
Produced by Andrew Davis
Arne Schmidt
Written by Story:
Arne Schmidt
Rick Seaman
Josh Friedman
J.F. Lawton
Michael Bortman
Starring Keanu Reeves
Morgan Freeman
Rachel Weisz
Brian Cox
Fred Ward
Kevin Dunn
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Bruce Botnick
Editing by Arthur Schmidt
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) United States:
August 2, 1996
United Kingdom:
September 6, 1996
Running time 106 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget USD$ 55,000,000 (estimated)
Box office USD$ 60,209,334

Chain Reaction is a 1996 American film starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Brian Cox, Kevin Dunn and Fred Ward. It presents a fictional account of the invention of bubble fusion using sonoluminescence and the attempts by the United States Government to prevent the spreading of this technology. Released on August 2, 1996, Chain Reaction was directed by Andrew Davis with screenplay by J. F. Lawton and Michael Bortman based on a story by Arne Schmidt, Rick Seaman and Josh Friedman.



Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves) is a student machinist working with a team from the University of Chicago to create energy from bubble fusion. They have been trying for quite some time without success but Eddie, while working at home, discovers the secret to successfully using sonoluminescence to create stable bubble fusion. The next day in the lab, the machine is perfected by Eddie and everything appears to be working and stable. To celebrate, a party is thrown in the lab. That night after the party, project physicist Dr. Lily Sinclair (Weisz) tries to leave the lab but her car battery is dead. Eddie offers to take her home as she is obviously intoxicated, so they walk off in search of a taxi. Back in the lab, Drs. Alistair Barkley and Lu Chen are on their computers while a van is seen driving towards the lab. Chen hears a noise and goes to investigate, but is kidnapped by unknown assailants as Alistair also comes under attack.

Meanwhile, Lily and Eddie arrive at her house and after making sure she is okay, Eddie heads back to the lab to get his bike. As he arrives at the lab, he sees a suspicious van driving away and detects alarms coming from the lab. He runs inside to find Alistair with a plastic bag over his head (Eddie is unable to revive him) and Chen nowhere to be found. The hydrogen reactor is on and dangerously unstable so Eddie goes over to the computers to try to stabilize the reaction, but is locked out of the system. Realizing the reactor is going to blow, Eddie runs out, jumps on his bike and speeds away as a concealed bomb detonates, triggering a massive explosion that destroys the lab and surrounding streets, eight blocks total. As rescue crews arrive, Eddie is questioned by the police and later the FBI about what happened the night of the blast. Upon returning with Lily to their homes, they soon come to suspect that they are being framed as fake evidence is planted in both of their houses.

Both go on the run and head to an observatory belonging to Maggie McDermott, an old friend of Eddie's. After resting up they contact Paul Shannon (Freeman), the man funding the project, but are almost caught in the process and barely manage to escape. As Eddie and Lily are evading more police, Paul and Lyman Earl Collier (Cox) are meeting in the C-Systems Research complex to discuss the current events. It becomes apparent that the plot to destroy the lab and frame Eddie and Lily for it was orchestrated by the company, and that Lyman is the one who ordered the attack on the lab. Despite some disagreement, Paul and Lyman decide to continue the hunt for Eddie and Lily, a task made easier when Eddie sends a coded message to Paul requesting another place to meet. At this new rendezvous, Paul reveals he was the one who framed Eddie. The meeting ends in an ambush, and Lily is captured as Eddie barely escapes.

By tracing the license plate on the van used in the ambush, Eddie is able to track them to the C-Systems Research facility where Lily and Chen are being held. When C-Systems' test reactor fails again, Paul, the scientists and the prisoners all leave the room, so Eddie takes the opportunity to "fix" the system. The next morning, one of the other scientists discovers the working reactor and everyone celebrates. Paul is suspicious, and immediately obtains a download of the fusion data, and secretly provides a copy to his assistant, Anita, for safekeeping. He then finds Eddie at a computer in the company board room. There, Eddie demands to be let go in exchange for making the reactor work. Paul agrees but Lyman refuses, believing that the reactor already works, so Eddie sets the reactor to explode while sending proof of his innocence to the FBI and blueprints of the reactor to "hopefully a couple thousand" international scientists. Lyman responds by shooting Chen dead, then leaving both Eddie and Lily to die in the explosion as he, Paul, and their staff flee the site, setting lockdown doors on the way. As the base self-destructs and Eddie and Lily manage to (in a feat of ingenuity) make their escape from the reactor room, Lyman is given a fake copy of the fusion data. Paul then shoots Lyman for overstepping the bounds of the program, leaving his body in an elevator to be incinerated in the ensuing inferno. During his own escape, Paul deactivates the containment, letting Eddie and Lily escape. As he is doing this, Eddie and Lily struggle with security over an ascending construction lift, ending in Eddie and Lily climbing aboard it, moments before a blast wave sweeps into the tunnel. Both Eddie and Lily survive the shockwave to be met by FBI now convinced of their innocence, who take them to safety. Paul departs the scene via chauffeured sedan. He is last seen dictating a memo to Anita. The memo informs the Director of CIA that C-System is " longer a viable entity. Will be in contact."


  • Keanu Reeves as Eddie Kasalivich: A machinist working on a team from the University of Chicago. He is forced on the run with Dr. Lily Sinclair when someone frames him for the murder of his boss, Dr. Alistair Barkley, and the destruction of his laboratory. He must work to clear their names before they are captured or killed.
  • Morgan Freeman as Dr. Paul Shannon: The enigmatic leader of the project at the University of Chicago. His motives are unclear throughout the movie, but he advises Eddie to turn himself into the authorities. It is later disclosed that he is actually the head of the entire program that includes Lyman, who tries to have the research team killed. The ending suggests Paul is CIA.
  • Rachel Weisz as Dr. Lily Sinclair: Physicist working with Dr. Alistair Barkley. She goes on the run with Eddie when they are framed for Alistair's murder and the destruction of his laboratory.
  • Fred Ward as FBI Agent Leon Ford: In charge of the investigation to discover the cause of the destruction of the laboratory. Initially focuses on Eddie and Lily, but soon suspects the involvement of larger government organizations.
  • Kevin Dunn as FBI Agent Doyle: Leon Ford's assistant in the investigation. He helps Ford track down Eddie, Lily and later, C-Systems.
  • Brian Cox as Lyman Earl Collier: Chairman of C-Systems Research. The person behind the conspiracy to keep the Hydrogen power plant a secret.
  • Joanna Cassidy as Maggie McDermott: An old friend of Eddie's who lives in an observatory in Wisconsin. Eddie and Lily head to her place after a warrant is issued for their arrest.
  • Nicholas Rudall as Dr. Alistair Barkley: Head of the project to develop energy from water. He is suffocated in an attempt to frame Eddie for the explosion.
  • Tzi Ma as Dr. Lu Chen: Project Manager on the Hydrogen Project and Dr. Barkley's right hand man. When Alistair is killed, Dr. Chen is kidnapped and forced to work at C-Systems under Lyman Collier.
  • Eddie Bo Smith Jr. as Yusef Reed: Right hand man for Collier at C-Systems Research. First seen as the getaway driver of the suspicious van, he overshadows both Eddie and Lily later on during their flight from the law.


Large portions of the film were shot on location in and around Chicago, Illinois, including the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum of Natural History, Michigan Avenue,and the James R. Thompson Center (Atrium Mall). Additional scenes were shot at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, on Geneva Lake in southern Wisconsin, interiors of the U.S. Capitol were shot at the Wisconsin State Capitol, in Madison, Wisconsin and at Inland Steel (now known as MITTAL Steel) in East Chicago, Indiana. Because of the cold Great Lakes winter and filming taking place during record breaking winter weather besides, unique challenges were present for the cast and crew. Morgan Freeman noted that "It was difficult for everyone, particularly for me because I'm tropical," he said. "I don't do cold weather. This is the winter. I was actually ill and in bed four days at a crack. It was really rough."[1]


Critics have given it almost universally negative reviews, as evidenced by its 13% rotten rating from 29 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.[2] Roger Ebert, who panned the film for its confusing narrative, noted its enjoyable action but said "By movie's end, I'd seen some swell photography and witnessed some thrilling chase scenes, but when it came to understanding the movie, I didn't have a clue."[3] Meanwhile, Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle states that "The narrative is very complex, but what's on the screen is little more than generic, non-narrative-specific, guy-being-chased stuff",[4] criticizing the lack of originality in the movie's script. Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle, however, felt that it was one of the summer's best movies, stating "[Chain Reaction] has better acting, better writing, more spectacular chase sequences and more genuine drama than all of this summer's blockbusters."[5] Chain Reaction and its cast were nominated for only one award, with Keanu Reeves being nominated for the Razzie for Worst Actor, which he lost to both Tom Arnold and Pauly Shore.[6]

Despite mostly being panned by most reviewers Chain Reaction was a minor financial success, making approximately USD$ 60,000,000 worldwide.[7]


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