U.S. Marshals (1998)

D: Stuart Baird
S: Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jnr.

If fans of the original Roy Huggins TV series The Fugitive ever wondered just what Samuel Gerard did after the Kimble case, they have their chance to find out in Stuart Baird's sequel to the 1993 film version of the perennial pursuit tale, co produced by Huggins himself. The answer is: well, he just does the same thing over and over. I mean, what did you expect? He's a man hunter. He tracks down fugitives. It's his job and he does it. Ah. Okay. Well that's very interesting. So what else is on?

To be fair to this well mounted pursuit thriller, there's nothing wrong with it as such. The action scenes are professionally put together, the performances are good, the script balances the pursuer and pursued stories in an attempt to rekindle some of that Fugitive magic: but somehow it seems all too routine.

The plot has assassin Wesley Snipes going on the run following a dramatic plane crash (well come on, last time we had a train and an automobile: we had to move on, right?) and dogged Tommy Lee Jones going after him. Of course, just as in The Fugitive, the cop may not be chasing a robber after all, but a man wrongly accused and a victim of some terrible conspiracy. While promising to delve a little deeper into Gerard's tough exterior, providing tantalizing glimpses of a romantic relationship with his boss, and nominally focusing on his relationshipw with the team of trackers rather than the person they are pursuing, the film really just replicates the dynamics of the first one and plays all the same cards on a new table.

Though it manages to develop the ambiguity of Snipes' character quite well, he's not necessarily as sympathetic or as interesting as the good doctor was last time out. Despite the elaborate special effects and locations surrounding him, you never quite feel that he's out of his depth and in need of our help. Instead you follow the bouncing ball as the plot convolutes around you, knowing he'll find a way somehow. By contrast Gerard seems relatively clueless, and as his suspicions begin to mount about the innocence of his quarry, surely he must find himself wondering if there are any guilty men in the world at all. The result is like an Oliver Hardy vehicle with Charlie Chaplin in support; the classic balance is not there no matter how hard the script strives to make it so. Snipes and Jones are not Ford and Jones. Snipes has an extroverted persona which overwhelms any ideas about establishing desperation the script may have had. By contrast, Jones is quite muted, reversing the poles of the first film to less than beneficial effect.

The film is entertaining enough, just as the original was. But even the original was far from perfect and the sequel is even less so. For a start, especially given the familiarity of the material,U.S. Marshals is too long. In order to liven things up, the plot twists and turns here and there and there are several climaxes during the last hour or so. It constantly reinvents itself, beginning with a James Bond set up, then briefly becoming Con Air, then Airport '77, then back to The Fugitive, then a sort of homage to the cold war thrillers of the 80s, then turning into Lethal Weapon 2, and so on. But it seems like so much unnecessary protraction, because the big twist at the finale is very predictable and the final showdown between villain and hero (I wouldn't dream of telling you who and who) is fairly muted compared to the scenes which have proceeded it. By then we are on the point of screaming hysterics to end the movie one way or another (It's HIM. Can't you SEE it? Just shoot him and let's go home...)

But there's no real blame to be attributed here. The film simply should never have been made. Though the idea was great, and the chemistry between Jones and his team was one of the strongest elements of the original movie, watching U.S. Marshals is like watching a half hour TV show that has been bumped up to a whole hour. It does what it does much the way it always did. But the fact that there is more of it is somehow less satisfying than the feeling of wanting it.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.