Synopsis: Funnyman Martin Short plays an inept, klutzy bank robber who, on his first heist, grabs Nick Nolte as a hostage. Nolte plays a notorious ex-con who is trying to go straight, so naturally, no one believes he’s innocent or Short guilty, forcing the mismatched pair to become reluctant partners in crime. Add to the mix-up Short’s adorable six-year-old daughter who desperately tries to keep this very odd couple together on a hilarious wheel-screeching run for the Canadian border! There’s no escaping laughers with miles of slapstick humor and nonstop adventure in this box office winner!
Three Fugitives 8.0
Following the success of ‘Les Fugitifs’, writer-director Francis Veber decided to take his film to America in an English-language remake that would follow the blueprint of the original. Critics apparently didn’t like it much, but it was a massive success at the time, recouping its budget almost three times over.
Amazingly, remakes being notorious for their loose adaptations, ‘Three Fugitives’ is largely similar to ‘Les Fugitifs’, with only minor tweaks being made along the way. Some of these changes, such as the ending (which is the most drastic change of them all), are obvious improvements. Others, such as the score, simply exist to adapt to North American audiences and don’t really affect the film.
It’s a redundant film for those who appreciate the original because this one’s almost a shot-for-shot recreation. But, for those who can’t stand foreign films (and, presumably, this was made precisely to cash in on that demographic ), or who can’t be bothered to read subtitles, then this is an excellent glimpse at what’s being created abroad – even if it has been wholly remade, like an American-built Volkswagen.
Even the casting is meant to evoke the original in some ways:
-Like Gérard Depardieu, Nick Nolte is an imposing blonde who is more at home playing straight than doing comedy. There are key differences between the two, however: Nolte does action better than Depardieu. Conversely, he can’t hold a candle to Depardieu’s ability to imbue his characters with sensitivity. Nolte also sometimes overplays his lines, barking instead of being stern. Thankfully, he doesn’t do it too often.
-Like Pierre Richard, Martin Short easily evokes the shleppy guy who means well, but does nothing particularly well. They both play confused, but focused, individuals with ease. Short is an excellent choice for this role: he can do comedy but also expresses a large emotional palette. He also never ever misses a cue or a beat. He’s quite good. In fact, he might even be better than Richard was. Plus which, he works quite well with Nolte.
-Like the one from the original, the little girl in ‘Three Fugitives’ plays vacant and silent. It’s not a hard act to follow but, while she’s not great, she is a notable improvement over the other one. For one, she could deliver her limited lines somewhat realistically and, as well, we feel emotion from her – she isn’t just a robot playing Short’s daughter. She was a huge improvement over the original, even though she was hardly the best child actor around.
There was a streak of remakes of French films around that time (including ‘3 hommes et un couffin’, ‘La chèvre’, ‘Nikita’, …etc.), as filmmakers attempted to translate their success back home to a larger crowd and bigger grosses. It didn’t always work, but it most certainly did with ‘Les Fugitifs’. In fact, I’m surprised that we never saw a sequel to it; not only was it set with the possibility for one, but the box office success of ‘Three Fugitives’ would have guaranteed it. Nowadays a follow-up would have immediately been commissioned.
However, beyond being a money-maker, ‘Three Fugitives’ is not only a very good remake, but it’s good film in its own right; it’s a subtle improvement over the original, which was already a fairly enjoyable movie to start off with. Granted, it’s an unessential motion picture, given that it completely redoes something that was made only two or three years prior (not unlike ‘Death at a Funeral’). But it’s a worthy one.