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Film / Chill Factor

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Never let it reach fifty degrees.

Chill Factor is a 1999 action/comedy film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich as, respectively, ice cream deliveryman Arlo and convenience store clerk Tim Mason, two men who are suddenly thrust into a dangerous situation.

The story begins in 1987 on Horn Island. Colonel Andrew Brynner (Peter Firth) arrives to oversee a chemical defoliant, code named Elvis, developed by Dr. Richard Long (David Paymer). Elvis is a unique specimen: a crystalline substance that is dormant in cold temperatures, but will detonate at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for jungle warfare. Going ahead before the calculations of the blast radius for the newly-modified Elvis can be properly analyzed, Long finds out that the blast radius, instead of the 200 yards of the previous versions, is now 8000 yards, or five miles, i.e. the whole island. Finding out the hard way that Elvis makes a better chemical weapon than defoliant, the blast results in the death of eighteen people, including Long's assistant. The government, finding Long too important to prosecute, instead send Brynner to Fort Leavenworth. Long is wracked with guilt and tries over the years to find a way to control the spread of the explosion, but to no avail.

Ten years later, Brynner gets out and, with a team of mercenaries, raids the base where Long works, shooting him and killing several guards in an attempt to obtain Elvis and sell it to America's enemies. However, a dying Long has gotten to it first, and sped it to the local convenience store, entrusting it to Mason, his most trusted friend, and imploring him and Arlo to get it to Fort McGruder in Arlo's refrigerated truck. The two of them now have to keep Elvis cool and outwit Brynner in order to save the day.

Tropes featured in Chill Factor include:

  • Action Survivor: Neither Arlo nor Tim are badasses at all, that's for sure. And they have to try to outrun a bunch of military-grade mercenaries.
  • Almighty Janitor: The two main heroes of the movie are a diner clerk and an ice cream truck delivery driver.
  • The Alleged Car: Arlo's ice cream truck.
  • Big Bad: Col. Andrew Brynner.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Arlo stabs Brynner with the digital thermometer he and Tim had been using to keep watch of Elvis’ temperature when Brynner is about to shoot Tim in the tunnel.
  • Body Horror: What happens to those caught in an explosion of Elvis, as horrifyingly demonstrated by what happens to Long’s assistant and Brynner himself in the climax.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The digital thermometer. It spends most of the film attached to Elvis to give a nice idea for the heroes and the audience of how close they are to reaching the bioweapon's boiling point, and then Arlo uses it to stab Brynner during the final battle.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: The lecture on how to outwit the trout (“Nature’s perfect hunter”) that Long gives while fly fishing with Mason inspires Mason to switch out Elvis with fish bait in order to free Arlo and keep Elvis out of Brynner’s hands.
  • Dangerous Clifftop Road: Invoked by the terrorists, who blow up a tanker truck with a rocket launcher, which damages the road and makes it more narrow and rocky, in an attempt to stop the heroes who are driving an ice cream truck carrying a bomb that will detonate if it goes above a certain temperature. They take it slow and successfully manage to drive out of that dangerous spot.
  • Dark Action Girl: Vaughn, the only female mercenary amongst Brynner's team.
  • The Dragon: Vaughn. She is Brynner's top operative.
  • Dude, Where's My Reward?: Well, Arlo tries to negotiate some kind of reward for his and Mason's efforts to prevent Elvis from falling into Brynner's hands, but Colonel Vitelli essentially makes clear that they better be content to have survived. Arlo and Mason instantly agree.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: Tim makes a fake version of Elvis to trick Brynner during the hostage exchange.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The super-destructive bio-weapon that can wipe out an area the size of Rhode Island with the amount that is inside of a canister the size of a coffee can is code-named "Elvis". And yes, that means that at one point a bunch of military men say, with incredibly somber seriousness, "Elvis has left the building".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Tim and Arlo as the film progresses.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: The prologue showcases Brenner as a pretty honorable military man that gets the book tossed at him for the death of his men (which he was horrified to see). After the Time Skip, Brenner is a cold-blooded mercenary that gives absolutely zero shits about his men dying and has no problem threatening to unleash Elvis to make the Feds back off (and then actually leaves a little bit of it exposed, which will kill Tim, Arlo and Heaven only knows how many people in Missoula as a demonstration of what it can do for his potential buyers... which is why it's a good thing that Tim pulled a switcheroo and gave Brenner fish bait instead, which makes the buyers log off from the demo feed out of boredom.)
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Arlo for Elvis after Brynner captures the former.
  • I Call It "Vera": Arlo calls his ice cream truck "Old Pete."
  • Idiot Ball: Having got Elvis into a cooler moments before it would have reached 50 degrees and with the army surrounding the tunnel, Tim decides to wrap it in a tee-shirt with a handful of ice and try to take it out with them instead of leaving it behind.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Dr. Long gives "Elvis" to Mason shortly before dying.
  • Implied Death Threat: Colonel Vitelli says he is authorised to take "permanently extreme" measures to stop the existence of Elvis from getting out, after Arlo stated he expected compensation for their heroics.
  • Improvised Weapon: Arlo incapacitates Brynner by stabbing him with a digital thermometer in the climax.
  • Jerkass: Deputy Pappas, a cop who despises Tim for being a drifter and has it in for him for supposedly selling beer to his son. Turns out he’s also a Horrible Judge of Character, as Brynner convinces him that his team is looking for a terrorist, who so happens to be the man he despises.
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: Mason and Arlo have to take the "Elvis" to a military base while fighting off Brenner's men.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Long, upon seeing the devastating effects of Elvis.
  • Nitro Express: The mission to transport the "Elvis" super-weapon throughout Montana to try to put it someplace safe. The variation is that "Elvis" is perfectly safe to handle roughly, but if it becomes warm to exactly 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it will explode.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Vaughn to Tim on the climax:
    "Relax, I'm a professional. You won't feel a thing!"
    "Well, I'm just an amateur, so this is gonna hurt like hell!"