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Film review: Fugitive, The

This review is late, of course. Your friendly neighborhood movie critic has been on vacation.

So, you probably already know that national critics are doing back flips over "The Fugitive." That Harrison Ford delivers an excellent performance as the title character. That Tommy Lee Jones gets all the good lines and delivers them expertly as the U.S. marshal in pursuit.

But you may not know that "The Fugitive" introduces a new star on the rise, one who deserves just as much attention as Ford and Jones.

Andrew Davis. Remember that name. And when you see it on his next film — especially if it's an action picture — remember that it's worth a look.

Davis is the director of "The Fugitive," and much of the film's success comes from his stylish structuring and catch-your-breath pacing.

Davis' earlier work includes what national critics have called "the best Chuck Norris movie" ("Code of Silence") and "the best Steven Seagal movie" ("Under Siege"). Those were serviceable action pictures with bland stars and routine, rip-off scripts.

But with "The Fugitive," Davis has managed to land a workable screenplay by Jeb Stuart ("Die Hard") and David Twohy ("Warlock") and two lead actors whose screen charisma and acting ability are established.

The result is a first-rate blend of Davis' talent for staging exciting action scenes, bolstered by characters we care about and clever, witty dialogue.

Not bad for an update of a beloved '60s television series, which was itself pretty good for its day.

The familiar story has Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) accused of murdering his wife (Sela Ward) and ultimately convicted of the crime, despite his protestations that a man with one arm was the real killer.

In the television show, Kimble (played by David Janssen) was a pediatrician in Stafford, Ind. After being freed in a train wreck, Kimble criss-crossed the country searching for the one-armed man, while the relentless Inspector Gerard (Barry Morse) pursued him.

The movie reworks Kimble's character as a Chicago surgeon, and instead of running around the country he stays in the Chicago area.

The train wreck is also reworked, into a train-bus accident — and it's a spectacular sequence. In fact, the audience may be forgiven for wondering if the rest of the film might be a letdown. But it's not. Davis cranks it to full force in the film's first few minutes and never lets up.

There have been comparisons to Hitchcock by other critics, and that's understandable. "The Fugitive," though more obviously derived from Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," owes a lot to Hitch's man-on-the-run and twist-the-plot motifs. About two-thirds into this film, it suddenly switches from chase movie to murder mystery — and then back again. And it works.

Also like many Hitchcock films, "The Fugitive" has holes in its plotting that are easy to pick apart and characters that are pretty thin, bolstered by the performances of seasoned vets who know how to lend heft to their roles.

Yet, the film is so stylish, so funny and so heart-stopping in its suspense that the audience simply doesn't care about flaws.

"The Fugitive" is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity.