US Marshals

Some say the ultimate flattery is in imitation. With movies, though, I say stay away from sequels – even if they are quasi-sequels like US Marshals. US Marshals is a semi-sequel to the 1993 blockbuster thriller “The Fugitive” which starred Harrison Ford. Tommy Lee Jones had a big supporting role that turned him up an Oscar. In US Marshals we move the focus from the escapee to the hunter: US Marshal Sam Gerard.

In The Fugitive we were introduced to Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) who was a simple but very intelligent man. It was Gerald’s striving for hard work – from both himself and his team – that made for such an exciting movie. Tommy Lee Jones revives his portrayal of Gerard for US Marshals. This time he’s chasing another escaped fugitive. But, this time there’s no real thrill to the chase.

US Marshals opens with a completely contrived action sequence that accomplishes nothing. The film opens with Jones in a big bright yellow chicken suit, staking out a really bad guy. How do we know the guy is really bad?

He wears black leather, dirty jeans, has tattoos, earrings, and his woman has real big hair. A fight breaks out, the bad guy is caught, and Gerard and his team celebrate. We then switch over to a tow-truck operator (Wesley Snipes) who has an unfortunate accident, gets arrested, gets bailed out by his girlfriend (Irene Jacob), and then gets arrested again.

We find out that Snipes’s character is suspected of murdering two government agents in “cold blood.” He vehemently denies it and says that it’s a simple case of mistaken identity. Oh sure, we’re supposed to believe that.

Snipes is really a super-operative for a deeply covert government agency called the DSS, named Sheridan. We find out that Sheridan is really a highly trained killing Marine – heck, who in a Hollywood flick isn’t? – and he is a hot commodity with the DSS now.

Sheridan is being transported to jail by plane. By coincidence, Gerard is on the same plane. A failed assassination attempt on Sheridan’s life results in a plane crash and that is where only one prisoner escapes; you guessed right, Sheridan escapes. And if you guessed that Gerard is on the chase, well, you guess right again.

The setup for the film, up until the plane crash, takes a horrendous thirty or so minutes. Most of those thirty minutes were wasted and strange, useless padding. I was relieved to see the action picking up after the plane crash but was disappointed by the slow pace which followed.

When the chase starts, Gerald’s team gets an unwanted addition: a DSS agent named Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) As with all predictable movies, we all know why Royce is really on the team and what his overall status in the movie will turn out to be.

US Marshals is a movie about waste. Wasted time for the more than two-hour running time and an endless cascade of needless scenes. Wasted talent for casting good actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr., Irene Jacob and Joe Pantoliano in such mediocre roles. And a wasted sequel for having a script that is not original but simply makes minor changes to the original film and passes it off as a new film.

US Marshals is tries very hard to be The Fugitive Part II, with action sequences that come close to mirroring sequences in The Fugitive – the plane crash for the train crash, the leap of a building to a train for the leap of a dam – and a story line that tries to be the same. What is missing in US Marshals is two things: the steady hand of a good director and the steady pen of a good writer.

When I heard that Stuart Baird was at the helm of this film, directing, I had a sick queasy feeling in my stomach. I know as a film critic I should go into films with an open mind, but I’m human. Baird, who did some wonderful editing with films like Superman, the first two Lethal Weapons, and Die Hard 2, became a director with Executive Decision. It was a generic and bland action film. I feared that Baird would also turn US Marshals into the same type of generic and bland flavor of film, and my fears were all proven correct. I really don’t understand why the pacing of US Marshals was so awful. It was slow and the action sequences were badly put together. The slow pace makes for too much time for the audience to think of the silliness of the plot. The bad editing and filming of the action sequences fail to create the much-needed adrenaline rush for an action film. Throw in a dash of unneeded government conspiracies and we have the making of a dud action film.

The script is unintelligent and confusing. Writer John Pogue puts together a script that is unnecessarily talky and reinvents the characters as forgetful puppets. Gerard finds out halfway through the film that Sheridan didn’t commit the crimes but still goes on chasing after Sheridan. Why?

US Marshals could have been better. The main failing of the film is that the audience is never emotionally attached to Sheridan. In The Fugitive we were with Harrison Ford’s character all the way. We felt for the guy and we wanted him to prevail. When the focus of the film switches from the pursued to the pursuer we lose this connection. And with the premise of the film being that Sheridan is innocent, we don’t want Gerard to catch him, so there is no connection whatsoever.

Snipes is reduced to portraying a guy on the run. Every time he has screen time he is running. Jones is reduced to a standard-fare action hero. Every time he has screen time he is chasing. Had US Marshals been a bit tighter in the story line and the editing, this would have been fine. But, the fact remains that US Marshals tries to be a thriller without thrilling.

It was funny for me to see Snipes and Downey on screen together again – especially in a hospital. The last time they were together onscreen was in One Night Stand.

Some sequels work out well (Empire Strikes Back, Scream 2) and some don’t. US Marshals falls into the latter category. With a silly script and an amateur director, time is wasted along with talent. Yes, there are some slick stunts in US Marshals and there are some exciting portions, but the time you spend to get to them is not justified. Skip US Marshals at the theatres. It’s a shame that this sequel was made.

Edited by Cher Johnson.