Advertisements for "U.S. Marshals" present the film as a sort-of sequel
to "The Fugitive." Don't be fooled. "The Fugitive," while no masterpiece,
was a taunt enough thriller, with a tight script and strong
characterizations from Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. "U.S. Marshals,
" on the other hand, is just another slam-bang chase movie, with lots of
flashy action set pieces strung together with a script direct from Cliché
Tommy Lee Jones reprises his Oscar winning role as tough-as-nails, always-
gets-his-man Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard. As in the first movie,
Gerard and his plucky crew spend a couple of hours playing tag with an
innocent man accused of murder. This time, former CIA operative Mark
Sheridan (Wesley Snipes) is "It," racing about trying to prove that he
was set up. Added to the mix is John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.,) a
government agent assigned to "help" Gerard in his pursuit. That's about
all there is to the plot. Basically, everyone chases each other from one
action sequence to the next, while Jerry Goldsmith's yammering score
underlines the tension we're supposed to feel.
Tommy Lee Jones is a tremendous actor and Sam Gerard is a fascinating
character, but "U.S. Marshal's" screenplay gives him nowhere to go
dramatically and 133 tedious minutes to get there. In "The Fugitive,"
Harrison Ford's Richard Kimble, a doctor falsely convicted of murdering
his wife, is thrown into a nightmarish situation and must rely on his
wits to try and save himself. It's fascinating watching the interplay
between Ford's desperate Everyman and Jones' relentless Gerard.
Compare that to Snipes' bland character here. Mark Sheridan was a secret
agent. Avoiding capture was part of his job description, for Christ's
sake, which lets a lot of air out of the dramatic balloon. Snipes doesn't
help matters much, giving a flat, mechanical performance without a hint
of nuance. It's hard to feel empathy for Snipes and difficult to be
engaged by the spectacle of two professionals chasing each other around
John Pogue's anemic script tries to build up Gerard's character by
reminding us again and again that we're watching one tough bastard who
will stop at nothing to snag his quarry. "Looks like Sam has used up
eight of his nine lives," offers one of his crew. "Your reputation has
preceded you," a Federal agent admires. When asked "Is this guy crazy?" a
teammate replies "No, but he's a carrier."
Gerard appears quite comfortable with his newly bestowed superhero status.
He struts around in front of dazzled locals, loudly exchanging strained
banter with his rag-tag crew. In the first film, Gerard and company were
a crack team. Here, they come off as smug and self-satisfied as the
Ghostbusters in their prime. Of course, from the opening scene, which
goes for an easy laugh by having Gerard race about in a chicken suit,
it's obvious that Pogue has no intention of maintaining the character's
Women don't fare well in the film, either. Irene Jacob is wasted as
Sheridan's vacuous girlfriend, serving no function other than to provide
Starbucks with a whale of a product placement. Kate Nelligan pops in
occassionally as Gerard's boss. It's obvious most of her scenes were left
on the cutting room floor when she abruptly tells Gerard, "I love you,
but that doesn't mean I won't fire you," leaving viewers to scratch their
heads and go, "What? Who? Where?"
Structurally, the film is just a faded Xerox of "The Fugitive." Richard
Kimble escaped from a spectacular train wreck. Mark Sheridan escapes from
a spectacular plane crash (in a scene ripped off from "Con Air".) Kimble
makes a spectacular leap off the edge of a dam. Sheridan makes a
spectacular bungee leap off a building and onto a moving train. Sure, the
crashes and stunts are nifty, but they aren't nifty enough to make up for
cardboard characters and a plot straight out of "Rocky and Bullwinkle."
The film leaves more than a few nagging questions. Is there anyone in
this story who isn't a master at picking locks? Are the filmmakers just
fans of Buddy Guy's Legends nightclub and the Broadway hit "Rent," or did
they have to pay for their product placements too? And most of all, why
in the world does Gerard keep chasing Sheridan when he's clearly figured
out that the guy has been framed?
Maybe he suffered memory loss, a delayed reaction from becoming
overheated spending all those hours in a chicken suit. Or maybe he's just
preoccupied, wondering how anyone could take a character as distinctive
as Sam Gerard and stick him in a movie as half-assed as "U.S. Marshals."
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott