By Ken Tucker
Updated February 08, 1991 at 05:00 AM EST

I’m a sucker for TV movies like The Chase: No diseases, no pious messages to be declaimed, just two hours of crisp narrative and vivid characters. It’s based on a 1988 incident in Denver, in which a helicopter TV-news team helped chase down a bank robber trying to escape by car.

Casey Siemaszko (Young Guns) plays bank robber Phillip Hutchinson, and he turns this cheap thug into a fascinating little screwup. Producer-director Paul Wendkos (Blind Faith) spends the length of The Chase sketching portraits of the innocent people Hutchinson takes advantage of during his mini crime spree.

Among these folks are a lonely bank teller, played by Ricki Lake (Hairspray), who is at once frightened by, and kind of attracted to, this little weasel; a retired man, played by Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show), who is forced by Hutchinson to drive his getaway car; and the helicopter team — Robert Beltran (Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills) and newcomer Paul Borrillo — who are the heroes in following Hutchinson’s escape attempt. There’s also a terrific cameo by the woefully underrated Gailard Sartain, as a policeman who’s dedicated much of his career to tracking down Hutchinson. Rotund and funny, Sartain has spent much of his career tucked away in Hee Haw; he deserves better and gets it here, for once.

Siemaszko is wonderful and scary, an utterly believable combination of savvy criminal and goofily shy human being. Ultimately, Wendkos accomplishes what most action-adventure moviemakers fail at: He makes you understand the lives of both the criminal and the victims. Terse and tense, The Chase is chilling.