Three Fugitives (1989)

Director: Francis Veber

Starring: Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Sarah Rowland Doroff

Release date: January 27 (US). This film replaced the unavailable Cohen And Tate, and I’m quite annoyed about that actually coz I was looking forward to it! Instead, I’ve got this “hoot of a comedy” again. May contain a dementia-suffering vet and spoilers…

Lucas has been released from a lengthy prison stretch. This time he’s going on the straight and narrow and he’s off to invest the money he earned while in clink. But wait, amateur robber Perry bursts in to Lucas’s chosen bank and instigates a hold-up! What are the odds on that, eh? The cops of course think Lucas is the mastermind behind it and he inadvertently finds himself on the run with the useless heist-meister. That’s not all… Perry’s ‘special needs’ daughter Meg joins them and big lug Lucas makes a positive impression on her. Awwww! See, Perry’s a widower, he’s lost his job and everything so he can no longer pay for Meg’s care and if he can’t pay for her care then he’s going to lose her and he can’t lose her because she’s all he’s got left in this rotten, smelly, cruel world.

Short was surprised to see a really small person pop up in the foreground

I love a good comedy, me. It’s just a pity good comedies that stand the test of time are rarer than a feckin dodo. I much prefer a regular movie with an unexpectedly witty script. It was over an hour before I cracked a smile. Dugan (James Earl Jones) is laughing like a drain at the fact that the wounded Lucas (Nick Nolte) has been tended to by a vet with Alzheimer’s who thought he was treating a dog. Lucas then calls him up and Dugan says: “Hey, Rover, how are ya, pal, come on in…” That doesn’t sound funny written but Earl Jones is infectious. Eh? Infectious? Hold on, how does that work…?

“Doctor, I think I’m suffering from James Earl Jones.”

“What are the symptoms you’ve been having, Mr Wolf?”

“Difficulty breathing, impaired vision, feel like my head’s in a box…”

The second time I laughed was when Perry (Martin Short) is dressed as a woman pretending to be pregnant and the cops give them an escort to the hospital. Two bike cops sit smiling at them for ages. That cracked me up no end, just the bike cops, not a man dressed in women’s clothes pretending to be pregnant. I know that doesn’t sound funny either but trust me, it is. I just thought I’d get the positives out of the way early and then crack on with the boredom.

“Arrest the writers before they dress this man up as a woman!”

I suppose Three Fugitives is largely inoffensive. It’s a nice enough family comedy (barring some bad language and brief violence) and I’m sure a favourite in many households. Short is good at the physical comedy and mugging at the camera, switching his emotional focus when required. I’ll use the above mentioned violence as an example when he has to come over all serious, waylaid by a group of hoodlums. The tone of that scene is off though, the rough stuff out of step with the movie. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling. There’s nothing to write about. Contrived nonsense. But of course it is, daft comedies are allowed to be contrived so it’s pointless me criticising Three Fugitives for that. I mean, the cops think Perry and Lucas are working as a team even though it’s obvious on the bank’s security video Lucas is a customer. But who cares? Plus, it was only unfunny to me and I’m notorious for sitting straight-faced through comedies. I just think there was an opportunity to dial down the clowning and do something more bitter-sweet.


Three Fugitives starts well enough, bungling Perry accidentally ripping the stocking on his head to reveal his identity to all and sundry. Then the bank clerk chucks the money bag over the window and it gets hooked on a light fitting. Perry’s jumping up and down trying to snag it with as much dignity as he can muster. Then, having taken Lucas hostage and dragged him outside, Perry promptly faints leaving Lucas propping him up while trying to explain to the cops that it’s all a big mistake. After some manic shenanigans, Lucas takes Perry to the cop shop to hand him in and absolve himself of the blame. Perry, however, won’t play ball. This is all okay-ish; then the half hour head of steam Three Fugitives has worked up fizzles out. Meg arrives, cute as a button, she’ll melt your heart in seconds. And the film begins a lengthy tromp through miles and miles of mulch. That reminds me; I need a bag of mulch for the garden…

Toilet humour – literally

The film tries too hard to force laughs in, really obvious jokes as well. For example, Lucas coaching Perry on ‘how to not look suspicious’, one rule being ‘don’t look anyone in the eye, keep your head down…’ As soon as that’s out of Lucas’s mouth you know there’s going to be a scene with Perry not looking and walking into something. He walks into a post. Right, that’s pathetic, move quickly on, yeh? No, director Veber kills it by placing a couple of cops in the scene and has Perry bonk into the same post again. More Perry slapstick, he goes racing after runaway Meg and gets smacked by a police van, the occupants of which are initially concerned until he hares off again and they recognise his clock – “It’s him!” Rubbish. And again, Lucas and Perry break into a school at night to ‘rescue’ Meg and they must be very quiet but Perry keeps – KEEPS – walking into shit, knocking shit over, treading on noisy toys – yeh, yeh, WE GET IT, VEBER, IT’S FECKIN HIGH-LARIOUS!

“… And then I said… heheheh… I said… No, I am your father… HAAAHAHAAAHAA!”

Then Three Fugitives does something I find an utterly mirth-free zone. Little Britain constructed a show around it. Kin yew tell wodidiz yit? A man dressing up as a woman. Maybe it is just me but I fail to see the humour in that. I’m only amazed that Perry didn’t have a ‘tache coz that’s always the funniest thing – bloke dressed up as a woman… but he’s got a ‘tache or a beard. Coz, right, he’s obviously not a woman, see, that’s why it’s so funny. Anyway, cross-dressing was acceptable in Some Like It Hot, but that’s it. So, this scene where Perry pretends to be pregnant and they piss off out of there once the cops have been fooled ends with one of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard: “How do you feel?” Lucas asks – an arbitrary question in itself. Perry replies; “Delivered.” Really, delivered? That was the best they could come up with? In fact, I think I can see Short dying inside when he says it. “Short cut, we’ll be in Canada in 10 minutes,” Lucas says then… I know a short cut to the end of this film: press ‘stop’.

This is the best bit…

Anything else? I suppose Horvath (Kenneth McMillan) is fairly amusing as the vet who thinks Lucas is a dog and tickles his chin – “Be better to put him to sleep” – and thinks Meg is a cat. Amusing as far as how funny you find an Alzheimer sufferer but as it’s a comedy you’re allowed to laugh at the afflicted, aren’t you? Also, it’s pretty cute watching Meg win over Lucas, even though he keeps shouting at her in an over the top manner. She hasn’t talked for 2 years since ‘mom’ died and just as Lucas is about to leave her and Perry in the lurch she says; “Don’t go.” Awwww!

French writer/director Veber has apparently made a carbon copy of his original flick Les Fugitifs. I’m not an authority on carbon copies; [REC] and Quarantine are also identical, so I’m told, but my poor aging vision says otherwise. So, if anyone here has seen Les Fugitifs, how does it compare with Three Fugitives? That’s all I’ve got. Kip time…

Three Fugitives in 5 seconds:

I’m giving this twaddle 2 Grimacing Shorts out of 5.



Cheers, folk.

ThereWolf, May 2012

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About ThereWolf

I only come out at night... mostly...

12 responses to “Three Fugitives (1989)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    Haven’t heard of this never seen it and after reading that I’m glad i never did.

  2. tombando says :

    Another Disney hit of the late 80s…..never saw it either, doesnt interest. Nolte is ok in about all he does save China Hulk…

  3. Continentalop says :

    Too bad the original French version wasn’t on your list Wolf. I believe it is supposed to be better.

  4. Droid says :

    Saw this back when it first came out. Don’t really have a strong opinion either way. As an 11 or 12 year old I enjoyed Martin Shorts clowning in movies like Inner Space and The Three Amigos.

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