The Chain Reaction (1980)

Article 3898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2012
Posting Date: 4-16-2012
Directed by Ian Barry
Featuring Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ross Thompson
Country: Australia
What it is: Action version of THE CHINA SYNDROME

A race car driver and his nurse wife encounter a fugitive who has information about a fatal leak at a nuclear waste facility and wishes to warn the public. But the fugitive is dying and only has a few days to live… and the company that owns the facility will stop at nothing to keep the leak a secret.

I found this movie on a DVD called “Action Classics” by one of those low-budget DVD companies. It has four movies crammed onto one disc, none of which I’ve ever heard of. It lists Richard Roundtree as one of the stars of the disc (though a quick perusal of the movies and plot summaries on the back of the package fail to list his name anywhere), and the whole set has an air of being a cheap toss-off for the uncritical action fan. I’ve not seen all the movies on the set, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie is the best of the lot, despite a lack of any big name stars (with the exception of a very short cameo by Mel Gibson in a beard).

Like THE CHINA SYNDROME, I think this movie works much better as a thriller than a social commentary; the bad guys in this movie are so steeped in cinematic evil that they defy your ability to believe in them as real people, while the nature of the disaster is such that no amount of initial cover-up would keep the truth from coming out in very short time anyway. The Australian accents are a bit thick, and the action is a bit confusing at times, but the basic story is easy to follow, and the action/thriller elements are effective. The car chase scenes are especially impressive, and I was a bit surprised to find that it was Ian Barry’s first directorial effort, though he did have some previous experience with editing. Still, I suspect the chase sequences had a lot of help from associate producer and uncredited second unit director George Miller of MAD MAX fame; if anyone knows how to handle a car chase, it’s him. At any rate, despite its flaws, the movie is entertaining enough to work quite well on the action movie level.

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