Judge David Johnson watches Michael Crichton's directorial debut and finds no sign of dinosaurs, or Paul Walker, anywhere.
The ultimate weapon is about to be unleashed!
Michael Crichton's first turn in the director's chair revolves around a frantic hunt for an extremist political fringe group looking to kill the President and send the country into a tailspin. Is this 1972 flick compelling enough for today's ADHD thriller junkies, or does it need to be kindly escorted into the void?
Facts of the Case
Those doggone '70s political extremist groups. Well, good thing we don't have to deal with any radicals these days, huh? Anyway, James Wright (E.G. Marshall, Absolute Power) is the vocal, dynamic leader of one of these aforementioned extremist groups. Sure he spits out flame-licked rhetoric about disrupting the status quo and sowing the seeds of political upheaval like any yahoo, but he's also willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Working through his clandestine contacts, Wright gathers material together to build a deadly nerve gas bomb, which will be unleashed on the unsuspecting delegates at a political convention. Since the President will also be attending, the potential damage is, of course, far greater.
The government has assembled a crack search-and-destroy squad to intercept Wright and foil his diabolical plans. Led by Stephen Graves (Ben Gazzara, Dogville), who, clad in super-thick black glasses and boasting one heck of a slick coiffure, is the apparent poster-boy for the "My Dad in High School" Club, this elite group has only a limited amount of time to follow the clues and stop Wright.
To add some suspense, a running clock sporadically pops up onscreen to clue the audience in to the drama (they so ripped off 24).
This cat-and-mouse chase will eventually lead to a sizzling showdown between said cat and said mouse. With the seconds ticking off one by one, Graves and company will have to summon up their collective wits to avert disaster.
Pursuit is a 32-year-old made-for-television movie, all of 74 minutes long, presented in dated, scratchy full-frame with tinny, mono sound. But you know what, folks? It's not bad. I had never before heard of Crichton's maiden voyage behind the lens, and spun this disc with low expectations. My modern-Hollywood, ultra-kinetic, flawless-heroes-and-bodacious-vixen training had imprinted me with the following ground-breaking first impression of the flick: boy, the hero sure is nerdy looking.
Yes, Graves looks like an outcast from the Arvid from Head of the Class Impersonation School; but the guy ends up kicking some serious ass. No, his gnarly glasses don't transform into razor-edged shuriken, but homeboy emits a solid "I'm in charge here, douchebag!" vibe. Graves is a smart cookie, and the film lays plot twists and challenges in his path for him to tackle. Not until the credits roll do the impasses subside.
Likewise, Graves's antagonist, Wright, though not the typical Psychotic-Though-Brilliant Villain, is equally adept at mixing it up. There are some nifty scenes with Graves and Wright trading barbs and threats, and the two literally don't stop jockeying for position atop the Hill of Smoked-Yo'-Ass.
The movie isn't long, and is paced well. Sure, the clock effect is gimmicky, but it worked. Not so much in the beginning, when there was plenty of time left and it was gimmicky; but as the flick wound down and the climax—of course—was seconds away, Pursuit delivered some very taut moments.
Substance is where this film succeeds—but in style, this presentation suffers. Some bizarre editing choices make the movie feel like the low-budget cheapie it is, and the dramatic fades that obviously led into commercial breaks don't help things. As I touched upon earlier, the sound and picture are piss-poor, so don't expect a visceral treat. And there are no extras.
Luckily, there is enough solid narration and quality acting (even Martin Sheen shows up, but only in a near-cameo role) to redeem these technical missteps.
A surprisingly smooth thriller, hampered only by its tech specs and low TV pedigree. Still, recommended.
The accused is released for good behavior. MGM is given a wet willy for a pathetic presentation.
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