Local bridge is all that shines in the latest sign of the Portland Movie Curse

To the rest of the country, 'The Hunted' may be just the latest Tommy Lee Jones-chases-a-fugitive movie. But around here it's a lot more than that. It's why we couldn't use the Hawthorne Bridge for several weekends straight.

It's ... well, let's do what the movie does and cut to the chase Ñ it's the latest victim of the infamous Portland Movie Curse, taking its place in line behind such forgettable fare as 'Body of Evidence' and 'Kansas City Bomber.'

Unless you've forgotten during the two years since the production took our beloved burg by storm, Jones is a grizzled manhunter on the trail of Ñ fill in the blank Ñ Benicio Del Toro. Unlike Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes and Ashley Judd before him, fugitive 'killing machine' Del Toro is a former student of Jones, a retired government killing teacher who never actually has killed anyone himself.

Del Toro is captured by Jones and taken to Portland, Oregon, a fictional city played by the real Portland, Oregon, and its environs. He escapes, is chased through town, hops on the Hawthorne Bridge streetcar, jumps from the bridge into the river and swims over to the rain forest, which is just a few minutes from downtown.

OK, let's not rag on the movie for playing hell with local geography. All movies do it; we only notice it when they do it here. Still, the Hawthorne Bridge would have to be about 5 miles long to accommodate its portion of the chase, and É

No, the problem is, 'The Hunted' doesn't give you anything to think about beyond the skewed geography (except maybe for what a good agent local news anchor Jeff Gianola has). It's all motor function, no higher brain activity. The characters Ñ and there are only two of importance Ñ are so sketchily drawn that it really is just another meeting of the Tommy Lee Jones Fugitive of the Month Club.

Jones, as intimidating as ever, delivers his meager dialogue with the brisk efficiency of a nail gun. Del Toro doesn't seem to know what to do. No doubt cast to breathe eccentric or soulful life into a cypher role, he's choked by it instead.

Director William Friedkin is an old hand who keeps things lean and speedy, unlike the steroid monkeys who dominate the action scene these days. But all he can do with this script is try to run through the minefield fast enough to keep from blowing up. Sadly, he packs on a little too much weight to do that effectively.

Often since 'The French Connection' (which remains his best film), Friedkin has burdened his work with a sense of importance the material won't bear. Here he opens the film with Johnny Cash intoning a passage from Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited,' followed by apocalyptic visions of combat in Kosovo, with some glancing references to the story of Abraham before playing Cash's own great new song 'The Man Comes Around' over the closing credits.

We get the Abraham bit Ñ father, here a surrogate father, ordered to kill his son Ñ but we never feel it in the film's spindly bones. It's almost as if Friedkin thought sending us out with Cash's bone-deep and blood-quickened biblical vision would make us forget the skin-deep, blood-soaked Hollywood formula that precedes it. Just say he's stuck up the Willamette without a paddle.

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