Originally written for The Occidental.
Remember The Fugitive? A taut chase film, it was a massive success, and earned Tommy Lee Jones the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Well, now Jones is reprising his performance as Samuel Gerard, the tenacious Deputy US Marshal, in US Marshals. Is it as good as The Fugitive? Not quite, but considering how good The Fugitive was, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is US Marshals a good film? Yes. Is it a great film? Not quite.
The plot is fairly straightforward, and almost identical to The Fugitive. A prisoner being transported escapes when the vehicle carrying him has a spectacular crash. However, that is where the similarity between the two films ends. In The Fugitive, the prisoner was a surgeon, convicted of a murder committed by people who were trying to kill him. In US Marshals, the prisoner is a killer named Mark (Wesley Snipes); but whether he killed in self-defense or in cold blood is unclear. Gerard becomes involved in the case when he is assigned to escort a planeload of prisoners to their new housing. An attempt is made on Mark’s life, but the bullet meant for him blows out a window in the plane, causing a very impressive crash. When Mark is the only prisoner unaccounted for, Gerard insists on treating the chase carefully — he saw Mark picking his cuffs with an earpiece from a pair of glasses as the plane crashed, and knows there’s more to this fugitive than meets the eye. Before long, the government has stepped in, claiming that Mark killed two of their men in cold blood, and is a ruthless, corrupt assassin. Although they’re willing to leave the case in Gerard’s capable hands, they insist on one of their own men (Robert Downey, Jr.) working the case as well. As the chase continues, it becomes uncertain whether the new man on the team is what he appears to be, and whether Gerard has been told the truth about the escapee he’s chasing.
The film is masterfully paced, feeding the audience enough information to at once keep them guessing and know exactly where Gerard got the information he uses to make various deductions. The suspense is balanced with humor to keep viewers from turning blue from holding their breath as they wait to see what happens next. While the film is rolling, it’s wonderful. But after it stops, and the excitement has worn off, various problems become apparent. Several loose ends are never tied up, but weren’t left open in a way that hints at a sequel, either — they seem to simply have been forgotten. I found myself thinking, “but what about -” and not coming up with answers. The Fugitive was so tightly constructed that none of the “what about-‘s” I came up with were without corresponding “oh, yeah-‘s.” US Marshals is still a good, fun film, but could have used either another rewrite or a better editing job, maybe both.
The performances in the film are all quite competent, but not particularly impressive. Even Jones, usually a bright light on the screen, seemed a little off. There are wonderful moments, of course — one of the best being the opening raid by Gerard and his team, with Jones in a giant Chicken outfit (he was hiding as a restaurant mascot) — but overall his performance was merely strong, rather than the brilliance audiences have come to expect. Both Snipes and Downey were quite good, able to hold the screen against Jones’ natural charisma. Downey’s character is a mystery man for most of the film, and he was able to keep his performance smooth without it being hokey. The team of marshals from the first film are back, and although their characters are not particularly well-developed, and they do not get as much screen time as the three main characters, these actors are wonderful, playing their characters as a natural team.
So what’s the bottom line? If you’re expecting another Fugitive, US Marshals will probably disappoint. If you’re looking for a fun way to kill a few hours, and get some laughs as well as a rush of excitement, it’s just the film for you.