You haven’t seen a corn-ball fit of pique until you’ve watched Cuba Gooding Jr. blow a gasket in the god-awful two-guys- in-a-truck thriller Chill Factor. Screwing up his face into a pantomime of fury, Gooding looks at his partner, Skeet Ulrich, and screams out lines like ”I’m about to get in yo’ ass like last year’s underwear!” and damned if he doesn’t sound like an incredibly short-tempered kindergarten teacher. Even these scenes, though, pale in embarrassment next to the ones where Gooding slips into fearful, pop-eyed, cartoon-panic mode. Doesn’t he realize he’s undermining his authority as a star? He’s choosing films, and playing his roles, as if he were scared no one was going to show him the money. For an African-American actor in Hollywood, that may be an understandable anxiety, but still, couldn’t he have had the moxie to say no to this one?
It was 30 years ago that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid introduced the ”buddy film” (a phrase coined by critic Molly Haskell), so perhaps it’s time to observe that this most durable of all contemporary genres has also become the most deadening in its repetition, its forced bonhomie and macho ”romance” rituals. In Chill Factor, Gooding and Ulrich are such youthful, unfettered performers that they seem like adolescents pretending to be men getting in touch with their inner boys. The two are forced to flee with a canister of chemical weapons, which they transport in an ice cream truck through the mountain highways of Montana; if the temperature of the canister rises to 50 degrees, it will explode. There is much body-smashed-by-an-overpass mayhem, as well as preposterous no-sweat remarks made in the face of danger. The people who made Chill Factor probably think it’s Speed meets Lethal Weapon meets The Wages of Fear, but to describe it that way is to acknowledge that it’s less a movie than a pitch meeting on celluloid.