This is the kind of 1980s film that Hollywood never seems to make anymore. Unassuming, low key and charming without a big budget or a labyrinthine plot, it simply tells a simple story and then finishes.
Nowadays low budget films must have a hook, which generally means they are extremely art-housey or plain horror flicks, there aren’t many little family-friendly flicks. Marketing and a lack of cross-promotion opportunities wouldn’t allow it.
This is a bit of a shame, as Three Fugitives is the kind of film that you can all sit in front of the TV and kill 100 minutes without anyone in the room whining unnecessarily.
Nick Nolte plays Lucas, who is being released from prison after a 5 year sentence earned by holding up 14 banks. (It was amazing seeing how fit Nolte looks here, he’s still gruff and weathered but he is actually in really good shape, something he couldn’t say for anything since the early 90s.)
Now Lucas claims he is going straight, something that his arresting officer (played by James Earl Jones) gravely doubts. When Darth Vader stops Lucas as he leaves prison to tell him “I’ve got my eye on you”, Lucas asks for a lift to the local bank so that he can rob it, and this is where the fun starts…
After entering the bank to open a new account, Lucas unwittingly becomes embroiled in a hold up perpetrated by the bumbling Ned, played by Martin Short, (who these days shits me to tears but who is fitting here, as his character is required by the plot to be pathetic and annoying, something he is in spades).
Ned ultimately screws up big and takes Lucas hostage for some reason, even though at 6 foot plus and a good 50kg heavier than Ned he could snap him like a twig. The cops, thinking Lucas really held up the bank, tell him to give up and he yells back that he has nothing to do with it, a gun accidentally goes off, Lucas is shot in the leg and off they go on the lam. (That’s cops & robbers shop talk for run away.)
Initially Lucas tries at the first opportunity to turn Ned in at the local cop shop to absolve himself from guilt and clear his name, he quickly realizes that Ned has no intention of giving himself up, but a lack of blood caused by the bullet in his leg removes a bit of his get up and go, so Ned takes him to a Vet for treatment.
Enter the reason for Ned’s robbery and desire to remain free: 6ish year old Meg.
Meg is Ned’s daughter, who hasn’t spoken for years since the sudden death of her mother. Ned is unemployed and attempted the hold up to keep afloat so that Meg wouldn’t need to go to a home or a special needs facility, and his desire to care for her is evident.
Lucas initially wants nothing to do with Meg and gives Ned the address of a guy who can forge him some papers so that he can at least safely skip town.
Without going into detail or the Spoiler-iffic zone, the three fugitives of the title band together through the various impediments and pitfalls that beset them in order to cross the border to Canada, with the cops on their tail the whole time.
This is very light and fanciful stuff, and a great deal of the amusement comes from watching Lucas brutalise Ned in an off-handed way, as if he does it all the time (and he probably does).
The second half of the film is Run. Escape. Run. Escape, with more and more unlikely near misses each time, all wrapped in a neat bow with a hokey 80s movie ending.
This doesn’t mean the film is not entertaining though, it is a fluff piece that never seems dated despite being in its 20s, and while never scaling great heights it remains amusing throughout.
If nothing else it proves that if you try to entertaining you don’t need to aim for greatness to achieve, after all for some reason it has given Robbie Williams a career.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. You won’t be breathlessly describing it to mates the next day but while it is running you will enjoy yourself.