Kiefer Sutherland stars in a frantic, miserable remake.

By Darren Franich
August 03, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Richard Foreman/Quibi

There hasn't been a bad version of The Fugitive. Until now.

The '60s original looms large in cultural history, not just because it basically invented the concept of a series finale. Harrison Ford's 1993 feature has aged into some lost dream of Hollywood, a mature character thriller earning boffo box office and Oscar love. True believers know 1998's spin-off U.S. Marshals is pretty good too, and would be praised today for voracious topicality: wrongfully accused Black man, corrupt law enforcement, foreign intervention into the highest levels of federal government, ambient China paranoia. (All that plus Robert Downey Jr. before he was safe for children.) Don't overlook the short-lived CBS remake from 2000, with Stephen Lang as a memorably nasty baddie.

Now Quibi has filleted the franchise into tasteless morsels of contemporary crap. The streaming service debuts its Fugitive on Monday, releasing new "chapters" every weekday until Aug. 18. Episodes average eight minutes, though you will turn off the premiere at the 1:10 mark. That is the moment Mike Ferro (Boyd Holbrook), our soon-to-be fugitive, explains an important biographical detail: "Actually, full name's Michelangelo."

Michelangelo. Michelangelo. The main character of a drama in 2020 — a drama morbidly serious enough to invoke the specter of terrorism and the truthless predations of a corrupt media-tabloid complex — is named Michelangelo. And this is not an eccentric detail in a quirky Netflix rom-com. This is a name that costar Kiefer Sutherland has to say, in angry gravel tones, his deadpan face making the whole stupid situation even funnier. "MICHELANGELO FERRO!" he yells. His voice echoes through the empty subway corridor. The cold darkness whispers back: Michelangelo…

Sutherland plays an LAPD honcho named Clay Bryce. "Clay Bryce" is also kind of a funny name, the kind of moniker a high schooler requests on their fake ID. Every other version of The Fugitive sent Richard Kimble running from Philip Gerard while hunting the One-Armed Man. TV characters are like California babies, though, and nobody just names their kid Richard or Philip or One-Armed anymore.

I'm having fun with the names. You can't have fun with anything else. Mike's a decent family man with skeletons in his closet, six months out from a long prison sentence for a crime he says he didn't commit. His trial was some kind of tabloid sensation; a news report calls it "The Hedge Fund Hangover Trial" and makes it clear that somehow the mayor was involved. So he's already infamous, and then he gets off a subway car right before a bomb goes off.

The mystery of who actually caused the explosion will, presumably, get explored in later installments. In the four episodes released to critics, Mike has two key antagonists who make him a most-wanted man. There's Bryce, who's just a whole awful lot like Jack Bauer. He commands the LAPD's Counter Terrorism Bureau. Replace "Bureau" with "Unit" and you get CTU, the outfit Bauer managed and battled throughout 24. The Fugitive really could be 24's spiritual sequel — it's even helmed by frequent 24 director Stephen Hopkins. Certainly, the terrorism angle comes off like the hottest idea of 2005.

Bryce, like Bauer, is also a widower. He looks longingly at a picture of his late wife — a picture framed between two chunks of text: "Sept. 11, 2001" and "NEVER FORGET." Well, I'll certainly never forget that awful bit of production design backstory. The only thing better would be if Bryce wore a baseball cap that said "SAD YET VENGEFUL." This is a strange problem throughout The Fugitive, and maybe with all Quibi's attempts at drama. You'd think the short-burst storytelling would encourage more action. But these early chapters are talky the way a lot of bad '90s action movies were talky. There is chest-thumping machismo, snarky exposition, and no shortage of goofy exclamations: "Someone has attacked my city!" and "F—ing millennials!" and "Their loved ones had their heads blown out of their asses!"

Mike's other nemesis is the lying liars in the media. Specifically, an ambitious young reporter named Pritti Patel (Tiya Sircar), who tweets first and asks questions never. Pritti works for a startup-ish venue called the Daily Score. She'll do anything for a scoop. It's implied she flirts with one source. Then she pretends to be a bombing victim's wife so she can peek at the nametag on his corpse. Sircar was so witty as a recurring demon on The Good Place, but here she's playing an incarnation of what scares old people about new media. (That's the hottest idea of 2009, so we're almost just 10 years too late.) At one point, Pritti says one of her tweets as she types it. Out loud, word by word: Nope.

Holbrook deserves better. His kind of laconic charm needs room to breathe. Sutherland should've known better. You feel him coasting: Sometimes Clay will suddenly have an accent, of the "Ah will arrest you, son!" variety. This remake was developed by Scorpion producer Nick Santora, who decided the best way to modernize The Fugitive was to make it a regressive 9/11-brandishing fable about the rush to judgment. It looks like it cost a lot. Sometimes you spend money wisely, and sometimes you blow it out of somewhere. F

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