Commentary: Why Don’t Movie Heroes Use Disguises?

I’m watching the 1996 film Chain Reaction, starring a young Keanu Reeves and while it’s not too bad as an actioner, there’s a trope that appears in the film that drives me crazy. What’s worse, it happens over and over again in even otherwise decent films: the hero’s in trouble, their photo shows up on TV, and they run, propelling the story forward.

And then won’t adopt even the most meager disguise.

chain reaction publicity photo
Weis and Reeves on the run in “Chain Reaction”

What the deuce?

In Chain Reaction, the hero is brilliant physicist post-grad Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves), on the run with fellow PhD Dr. Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz in a remarkably passive role). After their successful fusion test unleashes a complex, layered conspiracy with a shadowy government organization framing them for a deadly explosion, Kasalivich and Sinclair run while an FBI team headed by Agent Ford (Fred Ward, in a role he’s played dozens of times) tries to uncover the truth of what’s going on.

In the film, Kasalivich manages to learn how to handle a gun, fight his way through tough cops and security experts, break into homes, and more, but never thinks that grabbing scissors and chopping off his long hair, growing a mustache or even just wearing glasses would be a smart move to avoid immediately recognition as a wanted criminal?

By no means is this the only film where this happens, however. In fact, I’ve been struggling to think of even a single movie where the hero adopts a disguise because they’re on the run. Maybe in the entertaining film F/X, or The Fugitive?

It’s pretty darn easy to change your appearance, at least superficially. So why the heck don’t more people in films do so? I know the answer: the producers spend a lot of money to get a famous face on screen, the last thing they want to do is obscure or distort it.

Bah. It’s a trope, it’s supposed to be daft. Still, does this bug you?

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