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‘Three Fugitives’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 27, 1989

"Three Fugitives," a Disney remake of a French farce, recalls "Three Men and a Baby," a Disney remake of a French farce, which recalled "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," a Disney remake of a French farce. Aside from a lack of Yankee ingenuity, what we have here is an advanced case of déjà view.

Disney even imported Francis Veber, the director of the original "Les Fugitifs," for this frothy retread -- which is probably why Nick Nolte seems to have turned into Gerard Depardieu. One imagines Veber, who tailored "Les Fugitifs" to Pierre Richard and Depardieu, insisting on that actor's Neanderthal technique: "Neek, Neek, bang zee head comme Gerard."

Nolte, a major appliance of a guy, makes a fine foil for Martin Short, the Chaplinesque half of this odd couple. Like men the world over, they can't help but get in a car and bond (See "Twins," "Midnight Run," "Rain Man," et al.).

Nolte plays Lucas, a reformed bank robber who is opening his first checking account when Short, as the bungling novice Ned, robs the bank and takes him hostage. The police, of course, assume the two are partners in crime, and Lucas is obliged to mastermind their getaway.

Matters are complicated when the zanies are joined by Ned's daughter Meg (Sarah Rowland Doroff), a winsome 6-year-old who hasn't spoken since her mother died. Ned, broke and behind in the rent, robbed the bank to pay for her tuition at an expensive special school. While Meg adores her dad, she is immediately drawn to Lucas, and soon the three of them are on the lam -- just Two Men and a Tyke nurturing and committing their way toward a safe haven.

Despite its herky-jerky pace and aimlessness of plot, "Three Fugitives" is engaging sport, primarily enjoyable for the hearty teamwork of Nolte and Short -- a comedic contretemps as bruising as a Punch and Judy show. "Don't look anyone in the eye ... always look down," Lucas warns, and Ned goes right out and walks into a lamppost twice. The little moments are magnifique, but one can't help feeling it would have been better with subtitles.

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