“The Fugitive” is in for one hell of a run. The movie, inspired by the vintage television series, is a giant toy-train entertainment with all stops pulled out. A consummate nail-biter that never lags, it leaves you breathless from the chase yet anxious for the next bit of mayhem or clever plot twist. Commercial prospects for the thriller are huge.
This is one film that doesn’t stint on thrills and knows how to use them. It has a sympathetic lead, a stunning antagonist, state-of-the-art special effects, top-of-the-line craftsmanship and a taut screenplay that breathes life into familiar territory.
Hard to believe, but it’s been more than a quarter-century since David Janssen’s Dr. Richard Kimble stopped running from Barry Morse and disarmed the real murderer of his wife. The new screenplay retains the essence of Roy Huggins’ (who serves as exec producer) original concept and characters. Once again Kimble (Harrison Ford) returns home to find his wife (Sela Ward) murdered. He struggles with a one-armed man lurking in his house.
As the new edition opens, he’s being interrogated by the police, who have designated him the prime suspect. After a trial built on circumstantial evidence , he’s found guilty and sentenced to death.
But fate steps in when prisoners on the bus transporting him to death row stage a daring escape that backfires. Kimble escapes in the course of a show-stopper bus-train wreck that alone is worth the price of admission.
Enter Marshal Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his crack investiga tive team. The deputy sizes up the situation and quickly sets his trap.
Director Andrew Davis manages to sustain an ongoing chase for two hours in which hunter and prey are virtually within arm’s reach of each other. In lesser hands the reliance on coincidence and close calls would be ludicrous.
The opening section borrows liberally from such classics as “Rashomon” and “Last Year at Marienbad” with elliptical editing that reveals just enough information to send audience in the wrong direction.
Then there are the set pieces, beginning with the fateful crash. Davis takes us through storm drains, into the midst of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, down hospital wards, on elevated trains and into the county lockup. It’s a vigorous obstacle course.
As Kimble embarks onhis own investigation, the guts of the story is the confrontation between wronged man and his tracker. It’s another opportunity for Jones to remind us of his acting chops. Aided by a shrewdly modulated script, Jones embodies the sang-froid of a man part Mountie, part maniac who loves his job, respects his team and thrives on the hunt.
Ford, in contrast, has the non showy role. He portrays Kimble with such conviction that the idea that he is succeeding a small-screen predecessor is forgotten. The large supporting cast works like a beautifully oiled machine.
In addition to the handsome effects work from Introvision, special note is due James Newton Howard’s score, which slips in just enough hints of the TV theme to bridge the years. The film also employs some of the most imaginative sound mixing in recent years.
This screen version of “The Fugitive” had a fractious history, and the cool heads who doubted its box office potency are probably going mad for a way to create a sequel.