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Aeon Flux (2005)

06/07/2011 2 comments

In 1991, Korean American animator Peter Chung came up with an avant-garde animated series called Aeon Flux, featuring trippy imagery, surreal anatomy, and a gleeful shredding of many sci fi action conventions. It premiered as six-part short film on MTV’s Liquid Television, and went on to spawn two more seasons, until in 2005 the decision was made to make a live-action movie based on it.

…What.

Aeon Flux is a sci fi action film directed by Karyn Kusama, based on the Aeon Flux animated series. It stars Charlize Theron, Sophie Okonedo, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Frances McDormand, and Amelia Warner.

After a virus in the year 2011 wiped out 99% of the Earth’s population, all the survivors live in the walled city of Bregna, ruled by a congress of scientists headed by one Trevor Goodchild. While Bregna is utopic on its surface, people are disappearing, and everyone is plagued by nightmares. Aeon Flux, a member of an underground rebel group known as the Monicans, returns home from a mission to take out a surveillance station, only to find that her sister Una has been killed, mistaken for a Monican. Aeon is sent on another mission to assassinate Goodchild, but what she discovers will shake her perceptions of Bregna and the world she thought she knew…

I remember watching Aeon Flux on MTV during the 90’s, and while it was often surreal and trippy, it was engaging and easy to follow (even the original series of shorts, which had no dialogue). It quickly established a virus-ridden future with Aeon on one side of the battle and her nemesis Trevor Goodchild on the other. Later series threw some complexity into the mix by making them lovers as well as rivals, but it still worked. How did the movie do? Well… On the bright side, this movie is very nice to look at. Bregna is a beautiful, geometric city-state, the fashions are almost as weird as those in the original cartoons, and the technology is eye-popping and organic. While a live-action movie can’t quite capture the full spectrum of weird anatomy featured in the animation (for obvious reasons), the execution of Silandra’s hand-feet was seamless and well-done. The plot is fairly action-packed, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing even if you’re intimately familiar with the original.

Unfortunately, this last bit is mainly due to the fact that the movie is almost completely divorced from the animated series, plot-wise. If you approach this movie hoping to see Charlize Theron in the bondage gear, thigh-high boots, and ram-horn hair of the original, you are going to be sorely disappointed. The only apparent nods the movie gives the original is the deadly virus and making Aeon and Trevor lovers (from a previous lifetime, but still). Aside from this, the story just makes no damn sense once you start looking at the details. The original was trippy, but at least it didn’t confuse cloning with reincarnation, it made sense within the logic of its setting, and it had the common decency not to be so… generic. In the end, even though this movie bears the title Aeon Flux, I am left wondering if Peter Chung was anywhere near this movie when it was made.

In the end, I am left with the impression that whoever was responsible for this movie owes Peter Chung a sincere apology. They took an innovative, ground-breaking animated series and made a pretty but confusing and overall bland live-action movie out of it. Avoid this one.

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The A-Team (2010)


“I love it when a plan comes together.”

From 1983 to 1987, The A-Team followed the adventures of a group of Vietnam vets turned mercenaries as they helped the innocent, solved problems, and generally blew shit up. In 2010 they decided to make a movie of it, with none of the original cast and generally kicking the storyline back to its origin. How did they do? Let’s find out.

The A-Team is a 2010 action movie directed by Joe Carnahan, based on the 80’s television series of the same name. It stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Brian Bloom.

Right off we get to meet the primary players. John “Hannibal” Smith is being held captive by some corrupt Mexican police working for the renegade General Tuco, who mock him for carrying a gun with no firing pin (discovered when they try to execute him with it. Turns out he does have the firing pin, and it comes in damn handy for picking his cuffs. He’s an Army Ranger. He can do this. He sets out to rescue his partner Templeton “Faceman” Peck, currently held by Tuco’s men, and enlists the aid of a guy whose van he tries to hijack, one Bosco “B. A.” Baracus, who declines to be carjacked but, as a fellow Army Ranger, decides to help. Further hilarity ensues at Tuco’s ranch as they pick up Peck (likewise an Army Ranger) and they set out to make their escape with the help of cracked pilot H. M. Murdock, who they must pick up at an Army hospital. Oh yeah – he’s also an Army Ranger. We don’t know how. He’s also batshit crazy. The rescue consists of driving a truck through the wall (on which Murdock and the other inmates are watching an episode of The A-Team in 3-D) and skedaddling in a medical chopper during a dogfight that leaves Baracus with a fear of flying (not just flying with Murdock, but flying in general) and ends up with Hannibal leading Tuco into American military space, whereupon Tuco gets blown out of the sky.

And… breathe.

Eight years later, the boys are riding high as an elite Special Forces team. While stationed in Iraq, they are unofficially assigned to relieve some Iraqi insurgents of U.S. Treasury plates and about a billion dollars in currency. An old girlfriend of Face warns them away from the mission, but this is the A-Team, dammit, so they go after the plates and succeed in spades, but when they get back to base the plates, cash, and the only one who knows they were authorized to steal them get blown to kingdom come by an opposing private military firm called Black Forest. The A-Team are stripped of their rank, kicked out of the Army, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, you know they aren’t just going to let this slide. Fortunately, Hannibal is extremely patient, waiting for just the right moment… and when it comes, over-the-top action-movie physics ensue.

This movie follows in the spiritual footsteps of the series, with the clever chessmaster Hannibal cooking up plans, the handsome Faceman doing the social engineering bits, the aptly named “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock acting as the laser-guided Jack Sparrow of the group, and Barracus being the Big Scary Guy Who Hits Things. The movie serves as an origin story for the team, in much the same way that recent superhero films have covered the origins of familiar faces like Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and the Fantastic Four for the benefit of those who might have heard of them but are largely unfamiliar with the mythos, and it offers some nods to the original series as well. Liam Neeson is the most familiar face in the group, and he acts as a cool-headed father figure of sorts to the men, while Sharlto Copely (whom I’ve seen in exactly one other movie besides this one) is a lunatic with a pilot’s license and the origin of Barracus’ fear of flying. (Handy tip: never do a barrel roll in a medical helicopter that has the doors open.) The action is thrilling and gleefully over-the-top, and the moments when the proverbial plan comes together will have you cheering at Hannibal’s sheer ingenuity.

However, there were a few parts were the action was a bit too insane, and pushed me out of my comfortable suspension of disbelief (which must be loosely girded to begin with when watching a movie like this). The most notable scene has the lads escaping in a cargo jet containing a tank. Okay, fine. If it has wings, Murdock can fly it. A few attack drones come by a commence trying to shoot down said cargo jet. Fancy flying and battle damage ensue. Okay, fine. It’s an action movie. The cargo jet finally gets destroyed, and the team escapes in the tank, which is now parachuting down. Okay, fine. There’s really nowhere else for them to go, and the tank is the best alternative they have. The drones come by again and start trying to take out the falling tank, shredding a couple of the parachutes, so that the tank is now in near free-fall. Okay, fine. Of course the drones would still go after their target. Now for the silly part: Hannibal sees a lake below them, a fair stone’s throw that way. He has Face (IIRC) turn the tank’s turret and fire sideways, using Newton’s First and Third Laws to propel them in the opposite so they can splash down in the lake. That’s right. They flew a tank. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t work that way, and the Mythbusters already busted their technique of firing into the water to cushion the impact. But hey. This is an action movie. Action movies laugh at our silly preconceived notions of physics.

If you’re a fan of the 80’s series and you don’t mind heroes who essentially hack the physics engine of the real world to pull off hair-raising escapes, you’ll probably find The A-Team to be an enjoyable little romp through Action Movie Land. The spirit is largely the same, and with only a few complaints the action is thrilling and entertaining. Worth a rental.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

05/16/2011 1 comment

I’ve noticed an interesting rule of low-budget sci fi franchises set in the future: When time travel to a recognizeable period is involved, the most common temporal setting is modern times. It makes sense from a budgetary point of view: recreating a certain historical period can be expensive, and it’s hard to get all the details exactly right. Naturally, it will transpire that the modern day has the thing or resource needed by our visitors from the future, with no easy way to communicate what it is or why they need it. Here we have this basic plot, only with a Hollywood budget. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sci fi film set in the Star Trek film franchise, the fourth film in the series, a direct sequel to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and the third movie in the story arc known to fans as the Star Trek trilogy, finishing the storyline started in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy, and stars Nimoy, William Shatner, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelly, Walter Koenig, and a couple of humpback whales.

It is the year 2286. The crew of the starship Enterprise (destroyed during the events of The Search for Spock), are living in exile on the planet Vulcan while their recently resurrected crewmate Spock is still recovering from his resurrection and having his katra re-integrated. So far, his Vulcan components are repaired and functioning just fine, but he is still having trouble coming to terms with his human half. As they are headed back to planet Earth in their stolen strategically re-purposed Klingon Bird of Prey to face trial for Kirk being a heroic badass and saving the day disobeying orders and stealing the Enterprise, they receive a distress call from Starfleet, telling them of a cylindrical probe approaching Earth (because Earth is the center of the universe), sending out a signal that has toasted the electronics of many crucial systems and has the potential to destroy the planet. One odd detail: the probe is being aimed at the ocean, not at any of the land-based civilizations. Spock determines that the signal is actually the song of humpback whales, a species rendered extinct on Earth 300 years ago. Well, arse. Since there are no whales, there can be no response, means that Earth is screwed – unless Kirk & Co. travel back in time to pick up a whale to talk to the darn thing. They slingshot around the sun to get the speed necessary to travel back in time, and arrive in San Francisco in 1986. Once there they find they’re in luck – two humpback whales are in captivity nearby – but at the same time they have a few more problems to solve before they can bring their aquatic diplomats back to chat with the probe, and of course, hilarity ensues.

This was a fun little movie. While it doesn’t have the intense drama of Khan or the cultural development of Spock, it does have a simple plot made believeably complex by the expected problems of being from 300 years in the future, trying to get what you need to save Earth in your home time, without beating the viewer over the head with the Save the Whales message. Spock’s continued post-resurrection disorientation provides some of the funniest moments int he film, and watching the Enterprise crew running around San Francisco, year 1986, was a riot, even during perilous situations that could have completely jeopardized their mission. Interesting bit of trivia: during pre-production the filmmakers were concerned about filming in San Francisco, thinking the locals would see the actors running around and interfere with filming. As an experiment, they sent some extras touring the city in Starfleet uniforms. Nobody noticed. This is reflected in the film itself when people dismiss Spock as a recovering hippie, and Chekhov and Uhura are largely ignored while trying to get directions to the Alameda Naval Base so they can recharge the Bird of Prey’s dilithium crystals (almost completely out of juice after travelling back 300 years). Incidentally, the woman who ultimately stopped to help was not an extra, and they had to chase her down and have her sign a release so they could use the footage.

It seemed that most of the cast acknowledged the comedic potential in the plot, and they were bang-on in delivering it, staying straight-faced trying to solve their problem while the audience was rolling on the floor laughing. I especially offer mad props to Nimoy, who had to stay absolutely deadpan during some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Scotty’s encounter with a PC that lacked voice recognition capabilities, Kirk and Spock’s encounter with a jackass on the bus with a loud boom-box, and Chekhov’s encounter with Red Scare-era naval officers were just a handful of great scenes sprinkled liberally throughout this movie (though given the political climate I’m left to wonder how much trouble the Russian-born Chekhov could have potentially been in, given that he was caught in the bowels of a nuclear sub). ILM’s animatronic whales were impressive, too – so impressive that the crew got bitched out by conservation and animal rights groups who thought they’d filmed the scenes with real humpback whales. This is why ILM is a god.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home brings a satisfying conclusion to the story arc started in Khan, offering thrills and laughs in equal measures against a backdrop of yet another potential apocalypse. I highly recommend watching this one, but for best results you should only do so after you’ve seen the previous two.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

05/13/2011 2 comments

In many long-running franchises, there is often a movie that the filmmakers intend as the “end” of the franchise, only to have it be so successful that a sequel (or multiple sequels) is made. Saw III. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Some of these are obvious – others less so. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was intended to be the last of the Star Trek movies, ending as it did with the heroic sacrifice and funeral of Spock. As expected, it was so popular that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How well did they do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film franchise, based on the original Star Trek television series, and serves as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (his condition for returning to the franchise), and it stars William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, the Enterprise had just had its ass kicked across half a solar system by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman tyrant who hated Admiral Kirk with the intensity of a thousand desert suns for a bunch of stuff Kirk indirectly caused. The casualties of this battle included half of Captain Spock’s fledgling crew, and Spock himself, who sacrificed himself to allow the Enterprise to escape Khan’s impending detonation of the Genesis device in a final last-ditch attempt to reduce Kirk to atoms. Khan’s plan failed, but the Genesis device appeared to work as designed, causing a nearby lifeless planet to burst into life, the same planet around which Spock’s funeral torpedo was placed into orbit. Now for the problems: Dr. McCoy has started acting a bit loopy, and is detained for observation. Starfleet Admiral Murrow orders the Enterprise to be decommissioned, and its crew are not to speak of the results of the Genesis detonation due to political concerns. Kirk’s son David and the Vulcan Saavik investigate the blooming Genesis planet, and find an inexpected life-form: a Vulcan child, minus his mental operating system. Finally, Sarek, Spock’s father, confronts Kirk about Spock’s death, and the two managed to piece together the reason behind McCoy’s erratic behavior: McCoy is carrying Spock’s katra, which Spock transferred over to him just before his sacrifice. Spock’s katra and body must be reunited in order to properly lay Spock to rest on the planet Vulcan, before the strain kills McCoy. Kirk has explicit orders not to go near the Genesis planet, where he suspects Spock’s body to be (and where it technically is), and his ship has been decommissioned. Will this stop him? Hell no – he’s Admiral Goddamned Kirk! Naturally, Klingons ensue.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and all I really remembered about it was Kirk and Kluge battling on the crumbling Genesis planet. However, when I watched it recently, I was quite pleased by how well it followed up on the tragic events at the end of Khan and led nicely into The Voyage Home (mainly by explaining why Spock was so loopy during most of the latter). Did the Federation really think that Kirk would do something as silly as follow orders when to do so would put several of his close comrades at serious risk? Hell no! And the events on and around the Genesis Planet went a long way towards establishing the Klingons as a race, and offers the first glimpses into the Klingon language, since developed fully by Marc Okrand. We also get a look at Vulcan spiritualism and culture, and how it ties into the race’s natural processes. The ritual of Pon Farr is glimpsed when Saavik finds herself helping adolescent Spock through a rather violent puberty, and expanded materials have implied that she conceived a child by him offscreen. In all, the cultural development of the Vulcans and Klingons is excellent, and would play a significant role in later movies.

There were a few surprises in the casting here. Saavik, previously played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, is played here by Robin Hooks, who fared decently well in the role. Also, I recall staring at Kluge for about half the movie, thinking, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy”, before it hit me – that was Christopher Lloyd under all that makeup! It especially comes out when Kluge starts getting upset, but he did very well outside his usual spectrum. The crew of the Enterprise remains tightly knit by years of mutual experience (in-universe and out), even considering the conspicious lack of Spock through much of the film, and it was fun seeing McCoy getting in disputes with his unwanted katra passenger, considering how much the two had bickered when Spock was alive and in one piece.

Star Trek: The Search for Spock followed well in the footsteps left behind by Wrath of Khan, and easily continues the story of the crew of the Enterprise, as well as developing two of the major alien races of that universe. I recommend this to all Trek fans and everyone who enjoyed Khan.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


No one fights like that Khan
Douses lights like that Khan
In a wrestling match nobody bites like that Khan
For there’s no one as burly and brawny
And you can see he’s got biceps to spare
Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny,
And ev’ry last inch of him’s covered in hair!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer based on the television series Star Trek and serving as a sequel to both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Star Trek episode “Space Seed”. It stars William Shatner, Richardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Walter Koenig.

As Admiral James Kirk oversees the training of Captain Spock’s hopeful future crew through the Kobayashi Maru simulation, the U.S.S. Reliant searches for a lifeless planet on which to test out the Genesis Device, a torpedo that can terraform planets for human colonization but can also destroy planets. When Commander Pavel Chekhov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to a likely candidate, Ceti Alpha VI, they instead find a genetically engineered tyrant, Khan Noonian Singh, whose band of supermen were exiled there during the events of “Space Seed”. It appears that since that time, a lot of bad shit has gone down for Khan et all, including the death of Khan’s wife, and he swears revenge. He implants Chekhov and Terrell with mind-controlling alien larvae to compel them to help him take over the Reliant, and from there hatches a plan to ensnare Kirk and destroy him once and for all. Kirk, meanwhile, is on a training mission with Spock’s new crew when they receive a distress call from Regula I, the space station developing the Genesis device. Kirk being Kirk, he comes to the rescue, setting off a deadly game of cat and mouse between old enemies, amid revelations between old friends…

Wrath of Khan is considered by most to be vastly superior to The Motion Picture, and it’s easy to see why. Building on a sequel hook set at the end of “Space Seed”, Khan weaves a tale of tragedy and revenge that pretty much blows the first movie out of the water. Much of Kirk’s old crew is moving on to newer things, but they quickly band together against a common threat, mainly because they’re familiar with each other and simply work well together. Everyone is forced to think on their feet in a deep-space game of speed chess that could potentially cost the lives of Spock’s entire crew. Kirk has clashed with Khan before, and he knows the tyrant’s weaknesses, but the reverse is also true, making the conflict seem very real as the stakes are raised again and again.

The cast is still tight here, having learned how to adapt from TV to film through the previous film. Kirk remains a badass, even as he witnesses the extent to which this madman will go to get his revenge, threatening an adult son Kirk has only just met. Khan is also a badass, albeit one with a laser sight trained on Kirk and everything he holds dear (and incidentally, that was Ricardo Montalban’s real chest exposed by his costume, rumors of prostheses aside). Chekhov barely escapes being shoved into the comic relief corner here, as he serves as a plot device to hook in his old Captain; fortunately his loyalty to Kirk is such that Khan is ultimately unable to use him as an assassin. The subplot involving Carol Marcus and the son she bore with Kirk seems like a natural extension of Kirk’s notorious womanizing rather than just another plot device, and to Kirk’s credit he does adapt to fatherhood reasonably well under the circumstances.

In all, Wrath of Khan easily outshines The Motion Picture both in terms of plot and characterization, and is a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise. Absolutely see this one.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Star Trekkin’
Across the universe
On the starship Enterprise
Under Captain Kirk
Star Trekkin’
Across the Universe
Boldly going forward
Coz we can’t find reverse!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a science fiction film based on the original Star Trek television series. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars the core cast of that series: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

In deep space, a Starfleet monitoring station detects an alien force hidden in a cloud of energy, headed for Earth. As Space Anomaly #237 continues on this route, it eats three Klingon ships and the monitoring station in question, prompting Starfleet to recommission Admiral James T. Kirk, currently languishing as a desk jockey in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. While the Enterprise is undergoing a refit under the supervision of a new commander, Captain Decker, Kirk’s superior experience with Hinky Shit in Space makes him a superior choice of captain in this case, and Decker is unhappily kicked downstairs while Kirk’s old crew is hunted down and reassembled for the mission, including Spock, who was undergoing a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion from him when he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud. A new addition to the crew is the navigator, Ilia, a member of an alien race that pumps out mad pheromones but, per regulations, she has taken a vow of celibacy so she doesn’t disrupt the crew. When the Enterprise intercepts the cloud, it probes the enterprise and abducts Ilia, replacing her with a robotic double with a single mission: to gather information. All the while, though, the cloud continues barreling for Earth, hell-bent on completing a mission started over 300 years ago, and it is a race against time for the Enterprise to find out what this mission was, and how to help the alien entity fulfill it before it destroys the planet Earth.

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry recognized the potential that the franchise still held and lobbied Paramount to continue the series through feature-length films. Based on the continued success of Star Trek in syndication, the studio started bashing away at a Star Trek film in 1975, but the project hung in limbo until 1978, after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced them once and for all that sci fi films other than Star Wars could be successful. Consequently, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (expanding a plot intended for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, a show that ultimately never materialized) became a Proof of Concept that Trek could work in the film medium. As far as that went, ST: TMP fared well. It opened the door to more impressive films like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and a multi-film story arc involving the heroic sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Spock.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. The special effects were decent for 1979, especially considering that CGI wouldn’t even be a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye for two more years, but the Chromakey effects seem dated by today’s standards. The acting is pretty good, though, and the story keeps you engaged throughout without lagging or padding. I suspected right off that Ilia and Decker were going to be one-off Red Shirts for the movie, but the way they executed their final fates was imaginative and ingenius. The ultimate identity of the being V’Ger came as a nice surprise, too, and helped to link the Trek Verse with the “Real World”, albeit centuries in the future. There were a few points I didn’t immediately understand, having only seen a handful of episodes from the original series, but my roommate, a huge Trek fan, was able to help me fill in the gaps.

While it is not necessary to watch this film to understand the later entries in the Star Trek film series, I would recommend this to Trek fans as a glimpse into the beginnings of the Star Trek film franchise. While many points may go over the heads of non-Trekkies, it fares well as a stand-alone science fiction story, and I think most fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Blogger’s note: “Star Trekkin'” is owned by The Firm, copyright 1987. I am using it here without permission. All rights reserved, live long and prosper.

The Fugitive (1993)


“All right, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

The Fugitive is a thriller film directed by Andrew Davis and based on the television series of the same name, one of the few such television-to-film adaptations to be nominated for an Academy Award. It stars Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, and Sela Ward.

When Dr. Richard Kimble is a respected, successful surgeon, happily married, and living the high life. He is well-respected by his colleagues, and he appears to be well on his way to a long and lucrative career. So when he is convicted of viciously murdering his wife and sentenced to death, everyone is shocked – least of all Dr. Kimble, who maintains that the attack was carried out by a one-armed man. When the transport bus he’s on crashes, he takes the opportunity to escape in the hopes of uncovering the identity of the true murderer and bringing him to justice. Hot on his tail is U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, a no-nonsense deputy who is not about to let any prisoners remain unaccounted-for – including Kimble. As Kimble uses his wits and truckloads of chutzpah to evade the Marshals and find out which one-armed man out of hundreds in Chicago could have killed his wife and why, he uncovers a dark conspiracy behind her murder and and his own framing that could put him in even more danger than he already is.

Quick note up-front: I have never seen the television series this movie is based on. Therefore, I will review this movie based on its own merits as a movie. The basic set-up is simple, as outlined above, but after that Kimble’s hunt for his wife-killer and Gerard’s hunt for his escaped fugitive turn into a multilayered game of cat-and-mouse that had me on the edge of my seat the whole way between narrow-escapes, near-misses, and displays of cool-headedness under pressure that would have made Frank Abagnale proud. While some of Kimble’s antics might seem a bit far-fetched at times (like the leap off the aqueduct), he gets a pass through sheer desperation: by the end of it, there are at least four ways he could meet a bad end – therefore, he has nothing to lose in his prusuit of his wife’s murderer. As for Deputy Gerard, at no time does he come off as a real villain, because he has a job to do, which as he sees it is to catch a known murderer. I was rooting for both of them, even though they were essentially two protagonists working at cross-purposes.

I enjoyed the casting choices. Harrison Ford has long established himself as a serious dramatic actor since his days as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, and he fares well as the wrongfully accused Dr. Kimble, demonstrating a surgeon’s talent for thinking on his feet and reacting quickly but calmly to new adverse circumstances. Tommy Lee Jones also does well as his foil, Deputy Sam Gerard, setting himself up as the Reasonable Authority Figure he would play in half a dozen other films later, including Agent K in Men in Black. He is friendly and likeable even as he goes after Our Intrepid Hero with the tenacity of a bulldog. On a minor note, I’ve seen Sela Ward (the late Mrs. Kimble) in a couple other role since this movie – an emergency room doctor in The Day After Tomorrow and ex-Mrs. House in House, and it appears that tangentially medical roles suit her well, even when she plays a character that serves only as a plot point.

Whether you’re a fan of the original TV series of this is the first you’ve heard of it, give The Fugitive a shot. It’s a tense, straightforward chase movie that will have you rooting for both sides as they head for a common goal: justice.