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Movie Review : 'Hot Pursuit'--all Bang, Little Fire


For much of the way, "Hot Pursuit" (citywide) seems an amiable enough adventure-comedy: a gaudily fast travelogue-romp about a desperate Dan chasing his sweetie through the tropics.

If it stayed on that level--and didn't begin suffering from gunfight/car-crash delusions of grandeur--it might have been a satisfying movie. But midway through, "boy-chases-girl" turns frantically into a slapstick "Old Man and the Sea." Then we're plunged into some kind of hellish sub-"Salvador" police war. Finally, that modern movie standby--one-against-a-bunch macho revenge--pokes its mercenary nose in from stage right and bloodily destroys the film's finale, along with a truck, a jeep and a small cabana.

Writer-director Steven Lisberger ("Tron") allegedly based this story on a Caribbean adventure of his own. Unfortunately, he and co-writer Steve Carabatsos ("Heartbreak Ridge") simply turn it into another video game. Or rather, two video games: "Preppy Pursuit" interrupted suddenly by "Preppy Rambo."

The romantic leads, hot pursuer and hotly pursued, are played disarmingly by John Cusack and the aptly named Wendy Gazelle. As up-tight Dan and rich, loose Lori, Cusack and Gazelle engage our sympathies even though they're both trapped in that uninteresting quasi-human hybrid, Hollywood preppy-cute. Here, the lovers are separated on a planned mutual vacation by happenstance and Chemistry class, with Dan later frantically island-hopping to rejoin Lori's family.

The movie jettisons some initially interesting hints of familial disapproval and comical culture clash and begins hauling in action-movie cliches by the bucket; dragged along is the usually excellent Robert Loggia as a drunken, grizzled version of "Jaws' " Captain Quint. By the end, "Hot Pursuit" is trying to survive almost solely on big bangs and pretty photography.

Pretty photography it definitely has. Cinematographer Frank Tidy ("The Grey Fox") is a superb colorist, just the person you'd want behind the camera when roving through Mexico, Zihuatanejo or Ixtapa.

"Hot Pursuit" actually hits its peak in the first 20 minutes, when Cusack's Dan is amusingly waylaid by some mellow, ganja -loving Jamaicans, lithely and pleasantly played by Keith David, Paul Bates and Ursaline Bryant. Lisberger has something promising here: The notion that Dan's frantic pursuit gets him nowhere, that he might catch Lori if he loosens up like the Jamaicans, drifts with the flow.

But the makers of "Hot Pursuit" (MPAA-rated: PG-13) don't seem to trust mellowness. Instead, they flop over into a ridiculous rites-of-manhood adventure. And they can't seem to join the separate strands of crime-action and romantic-comedy; perhaps they've never seen De Broca's "That Man From Rio." Finally, romance and comedy are dumped in favor of carnage: a self-sabotaging decision for what might have been a cute, enjoyable movie.

'HOT PURSUIT' A Paramount release of an RKO Picture. Producers Pierre David, Theodore R. Parvin. Director Steven Lisberger. Writers Lisberger, Steven Carabatsos. Executive producers Tom Mankiewicz, Jerry Offsay. Music Rareview. Camera Frank Tidy. Editor Mitchell Sinoway. With John Cusack, Robert Loggia, Jerry Stiller, Wendy Gazelle, Monte Markham, Shelley Fabares, Ben Stiller.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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