Reward For `The Fugitive': Strong Acting, Thrilling Pacing

Movie review

XXX 1/2 "The Fugitive," with Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Sela Ward, Andreas Katsulas and Jeroen Krabbe. Directed by Andrew Davis, from a screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy. Alderwood, Chalet, Crossroads, Everett Mall, Factoria, Guild 45th, Kent, Northgate, Seatac North, Snohomish, Southcenter, Totem Lake, Puget Park and Valley drive-ins. "PG-13" - Parental guidance strongly suggested because of profanity, violence. -------------------------------------------------------------------

In virtually any action movie worth its budget, there is one commodity that the filmmakers will include as their major selling point in luring audiences. It is called, quite simply, The Money Shot.

The Money Shot in "The Fugitive" involves a freight train and a prison transfer bus, one of which is moving at furious velocity; the other is utterly immobilized. Their collision, filmed full-scale, is grandly worthy of the loud cheers it earned at a weeknight preview. This is the stuff of which great summer movies are made.

The incident also puts an intelligent and brilliantly paced plot in immediate motion, when prominent Chicago surgeon Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), wrongly accused of murdering his wife, seizes the opportunity to flee and begin the intense process of proving his innocence.

It won't be easy, because a human bloodhound is on his trail, in the form of U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his army of well-trained associates. As they embark on one of the swiftest, smartest cat-and-mouse games ever devised, Kimble and Gerard will ultimately converge toward a common goal: to find the infamous "one-armed man" (Andreas Katsulas) and expose corruption in the lucrative field of "miracle-cure" pharmaceuticals.

It is a simple but addictively compelling plot, adapted from the popular TV series that starred David Janssen from 1963-'67. None of the major characters have changed, nor has the outcome, but the purity of Roy Huggins' original premise lends itself well to this big-screen facelift, especially since so many "Fugitive" episodes merely stalled the inevitable.

Comfortable with the kind of anxious conviction at which he excels, Ford lends crucial prestige to the production by matching Kimble's wits with passionate devotion to his wife (Sela Ward, in flashbacks) and profession. Nearly surrounded by pursuing lawmen in a hospital, he will pause to save a young boy's life - and there's not a hint of false sentiment or silliness in his doing so.

Only once does the film dent its credibility (involving an unlikely hitchhiking pickup), but even this minor glitch is arguable, and by creating two upstanding, equally intelligent opponents in Kimble and the wisecracking Gerard, co-writers Jeb Stuart (whose first screenplay was a little number called "Die Hard") and David Twohy have avoided the trap into which so many lesser action movies fall. Gerard is Kimble's enemy, but he is as good a man as the fugitive he chases, and that gives "The Fugitive" ample tension to sustain a pulse-racing 130-minute running time.

The film is little more than a well-oiled machine that serves a strictly limited function, but like a precision timepiece, it is a thing to marvel at, even under close scrutiny. It should also remove any doubt about the progressing virtuosity of action director Andrew Davis, coming hot off the success of "Under Siege." Davis not only knows the importance of The Money Shot, but he knows that the best films in the genre demand much more than that.