Fled: Kevin Hooks’ Actioner Starring Laurence Fishburne

It’s probably a futile exercise to analyze in detail the improbable plot points and incoherent characterizations in Fled, a fast-moving actioner with a good dosage of humor whose sole purpose is to provide harmless popcorn entertainment, which it does rather well.

Toplined by Laurence Fishburne (in his action debut) and Stephen Baldwin, as convicts on the run from the law and the mob, MGM release doesn’t belong to the season’s biggest guns, but it will rub indiscriminating summer audiences the right way, resulting in healthy, though not spectacular box-office.

Scripter Preston A. Whitmore, II and helmer Kevin Hooks are obviously well-versed in film lore, for they have concocted a hodgepodge that recycles elements from several white-black team movies, such as 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, Money Train, as well as character-driven action comedies like Bad Boys. In all of these films, much of the humor derives from the endless sparring of an ill-matched couple as they face one gruesome adventure after another.

Initial dramatic sequence is actually inspired by Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, though it becomes clear quite quickly that, unlike the l958 movie, Fled is neither a serious exploration of an interracial conflict nor a political allegory. Piper (Fishburne), a no-nonsense convict, and Dodge (Baldwin), a smart computer hacker, find themselves handcuffed to each other in a Georgia jail, when Dodge is harassed by a crazed prisoner and Piper interferes. A violent riot erupts, killing all the guards and allowing the odd couple to escape.

Circumstances leading to Piper’s arrest are initially vague; later, they provide a major plot point regarding his identity that can’t be revealed here. As for Dodge, he’s doing Federal time for using his computer to steal millions from a multi-national corporation, which unbeknownst to him, serves as a front for a Cuban crime syndicate.

An impressive pre-credit scene establishes the efforts of the district attorney office to produce a key witness that will help indict Mantajano (Michael Nader), the Cuban mafioso who heads the operation. When the witness is killed in a bomb explosion, the only chance to frame Mantajano is to get a computer disk, which contains invaluable information about his operation and is now in Dodge’s possession.

Prosecutor Chris Paine (David Dukes) puts pressure on Federal Marshall Schiller (Robert John Burke) to get the disk quickly, in time for the hearings of the organized crime committee. Joining the race is Atlanta police detective Gibson (Will Patton), who all along suspects that Schiller is an officer of dubious morality, with a different agenda on his mind.

Except for some funny one-liners which invariably draw on movie references, Whitmore’s script is no more than serviceable. Indeed, whenever the pair engages in verbal or physical brawl (which is often), tension is released by allusions to classic actioners like Deliverance, The Godfather, and even The Fly. A visually stunning scene, in which the couple jumps off a railroad bridge into the river, evokes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as The Fugitive. In this–and other instances–Matthew F. Leonetti’s alert and mobile camera, and sharp tech credits in every department, elevate the virtually nonstop actioner way above its pastiche, B-level plot.

Afraid of boring the audience for one brief second, director Hooks, who earlier made the action-thriller Passenger 57, gives the proceedings an extraordinarily rapid tempo. This is especially so in some well-executed chase scenes that have the handcuffed men use every possible means of transportation: cars, trucks, motorcycles–and their own feet.

Adding another panel to his already impressive range, Fishburne makes a most appealing action hero, overcoming the various twists and turns, not all of them plausible, of his tough-as-nails character. Fishburne enjoys good chemistry with Baldwin, who gets to deliver most of the punch lines, including one that refers directly to his co-star’s role in What’s Love Got to Do With It.

Salma Hayek, as a Mexican divorcee, and Brittney Powell, as a stripper, render the necessary feminine touch to what’s mostly a male territory, though Hayek’s erotic image is underplayed. Pic also benefits from a large and wonderful supporting cast, with especially forceful turns from Patton as a decent detective, Burke (Hal Hartley’s regular) as a corrupt marshall, Dukes as a scrupulous prosecutor, and Hook (who’s the helmer’s father) as a calm, by-the-book cop.

Stunt coordinator John Meier’s acrobatic choreography meets admirably the demands of a physically challenging action, set in such colorful locales as Miami, Tennessee’s Chattanooga Railroad Museum, and Georgia’s Stone Mountain Memorial.