Older men are getting all the action. With Arnold Schwarzenegger tripping over his own ego in the box-office bomb Last Action Hero, the summer’s real heroes are men over 50: Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. First, Eastwood, 63, huffs and puffs his way through In the Line of Fire, as a U.S. Secret Service veteran looking for a last chance to take a bullet for the President. Now, Connery, 62, and Ford, 51, are up to their old tricks in two new Hollywood thrillers. In Rising Sun, Connery revives his James Bond persona to play a suave detective infiltrating a foreign culture. In The Fugitive, based on the classic TV series, Ford plays another running, jumping man-in-jeopardy. Both heroes live by their wits, using muscle as a last resort. But while Connery’s character is always one leisurely step ahead of the plot, Ford’s is in a footrace—like Indiana Jones trying to outrun the boulder.
Rising Sun, adapted from the Michael Crichton best-seller, is a rather long-winded murder mystery with a mishmash of formula elements: comic banter between a white cop and a black sidekick, a sinister corporate conspiracy, a splash of Basic Instinct erotic violence and a dash of kung fu. The polyweave plot, based on Crichton’s cautionary tale about Japan taking over America’s economy, seems stiff. The Fugitive is, on close examination, no less ludicrous. But you hardly notice, because the movie is much less plot-driven.
The Fugitive is a simple but rivetting exercise in suspense, kept taut by superb performances from Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Acting with an intensity that quivers between fear and rage, Ford seems ideally cast as Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago surgeon wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. His eyes have that hunted/haunted look. And it seems fitting that a star with a professed aversion to celebrity exposure is playing someone who lives in mortal fear of being recognized. Jones, meanwhile, brings an acerbic wit to the role of Sam Gerard, the U.S. marshal who is hot on Kimble’s tail, along with a twitchy partner (Joe Pantoliano) and a crew of idiosyncratic cops.
Fleeting glimpses of the murder kickstart the plot. Kimble comes home to find his wife (Sela Ward) dead. Her killer, a onearmed man (Andreas Katsulas), gets away. After being convicted of the crime, Kimble escapes from custody in a scene that involves a spectacular collision between a freight train and a prison bus. Defying
death and logic, Kimble also survives a dive from an enormous dam. But then the action settles down into a marathon game of hideand-seek. And when Kimble is not running, he is doing homework. His hunt for the one-armed man becomes a kind of research project, with a computer trail of clues that leads to the medical profession. In the end, some big questions remain unanswered, including the motive behind the wife’s murder.
But the murder is just a premise for a footchase, which has an irresistible momentum all its own. As duelling obsessives, Ford and Jones add a psychological dimension to the hard-bodied drama. And film-maker Andrew Davis (Under Siege) directs The Fugitive with such gritty documentary realism that the finer points of the plot seem beside the point.
Rising Sun, however, is a whodunit. And the mechanics of who’s done what and why are important. Like The Firm, the summer’s other thriller based on a best-seller about corporate conspiracy, Rising Sun takes substantial liberties with the author’s original story. Crichton, who collaborated on the screenplay in the early stages, dropped out after disagreements with director and cowriter Philip Kaufman. Kaufman has softened the novel’s paranoia about the Japanese. He has changed the identity, and nationality, of the killer. And, throwing a curve into the racial politics, he has cast a black actor, Wesley Snipes, as one of the two leads.
Snipes plays Web Smith, a police officer investigating the murder of a young woman in the boardroom of a Japanese corporation in downtown Los Angeles. She was found “lying flat on her back like a piece of sushi,” in the words of a cop played by a wonderfully caustic Harvey Keitel. And she appears to have been strangled while engaged in kinky sex (a scene recorded on laser disc and replayed through the movie). Smith is teamed up with John Connor (Connery), a detective so familiar with the Japanese that he could be working for them. The story unfolds as a quest, with Connor serving as the guide (senpai) who leads the apprentice (kohai) through a maze of cultural codes and technological intrigue.
In a role that Crichton created for him, Connery performs a feature-length homage
to his old 007 self: elegant and invincible, with a martini-dry sense of humor. Snipes, however, is stuck asking all the dumb questions. Aside from a token visit to the black ghetto, where he gets to play tour guide, he serves as Tonto to Connery’s Lone Ranger. There were charges that the novel took a xenophobic view of the Japanese. In the movie, that is overshadowed by a racial stereotype much closer to home.
Director Kaufman has a lyrical touch. But the slack pacing of Rising Sun seems all wrong for a thriller. As usual, Connery is a pleasure to watch. Yet he seems almost too comfortable coasting on the James Bond image—and recalling a time when action heroes still needed a licence to kill.
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