U.S. Marshals (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

To me, the idea of a sequel to The Fugitive always seemed like a bad idea. True, Sam Girard (Tommy Lee Jones) was a more interesting character than Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford), but could he carry a movie on his own? Sadly, we'll never really know, because the Girard of U.S. Marshals bears only a token resemblance to the character who doggedly pursued Kimball in The Fugitive. As re-invented here, Girard is a generic action hero; most of the quirks that made him interesting (and that earned Jones an Oscar) are absent. With a few minor re-writes, John McClane from the Die Hard movies could have been plugged into this role.

The script tries to recapture the energy of The Fugitive by re-cycling various plot elements. As in the original, Girard is pursuing an innocent man, and he suspects that there's more to the case than meets the eye. There's a big accident that allows the prisoner to go free (this time, it involves a plane and the side of a mountain, not a bus and a train), a subsequent manhunt, and several lengthy chase sequences. For a little variety, the conspiracy in U.S. Marshals implicates officials of the U.S. government, not a one-armed man and doctors.

This time around, the wrongly-accused man is a suspected murderer named Sheridan (Wesley Snipes). Supposedly, he killed two federal agents, but someone wants him dead before his case ends up in court. A murder attempt on the airplane transporting him to prison goes wrong, and the plane crash lands. During the ensuing confusion, Sheridan gets away. Soon, U.S. Marshal Sam Girard and his faithful team are on the job, setting up roadblocks and closing off the perimeter. The Feds, wanting to be kept informed of the manhunt's progress, force Girard to add another member to his team -- slick, self-confident John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.). And the chase is on.

Unfortunately, it's not just one chase -- it's one after another after another. The repetitiveness quickly grows tiresome, and the movie ends up lasting at least thirty minutes too long. The bloated running length has nothing to do with extra time needed to unravel the needlessly convoluted plot. It simply offers an opportunity for the characters to do a lot more running around before the final, inevitable confrontation between Girard, Sheridan, and a traitor (whose identity, despite being easy to guess, shall remain unrevealed here).

Tommy Lee Jones, who turned in a delicious performance as Girard in The Fugitive, is (like the screenplay) on auto-pilot here. He's a 52 year old action hero who runs, climbs, shoots, and swims, all without getting a hair out of place. Snipes' Sheridan appears to have undergone a personality extraction -- there's nothing deeper than the bare-bones "innocent guy on the run." Most of the supporting characters are equally faceless, with the exception of Joe Pantoliano's Cosmo, who acts like he drinks too much coffee. Swiss actress Irene Jacob, the dark-haired beauty from Kieslowski's Red, represents the classic case of talent being wasted. She plays Sheridan's girlfriend.

While I enjoyed The Fugitive, I wasn't the film's biggest booster. I thought the coincidence-laden plot was poorly constructed. But the action sequences were often nail-biters, the lead characters were well-developed, and the dialogue was intelligent. U.S. Marshals exhibits many of The Fugitive's faults with few of its strengths. As a result, this movie is a routine exercise in stunt choreography, with more valleys than peaks, and not enough tension to keep the viewer engaged for the full 143-minute length. U.S. Marshals is workmanlike, and that makes it, at best, a marginal choice for theatrical viewing.

U.S. Marshals (United States, 1998)

Run Time: 2:13
U.S. Release Date: 1998-03-06
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1