Friday, July 15, 2011

U.S. Marshals (1998)

A Bad Follow-up to The Fugitive - But
A Pretty Good Saturday Morning Action Flick

- The widespread success of The Fugitive (1993) - its six Oscar nominations and Tommy Lee Jones' Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor for his role as US Marshal Samuel Gerard - created a situation for a movie spinoff. However, rather than creating another classy thriller in the mold of The Fugitive, we get US Marshalls (1998): A slightly enjoyable but mostly sloppy action flick.

Thankfully retiring Harrison Ford's Dr. Richard Kimble character from The Fugitive (can you imagine Kimble as a fugitive again?), US Marshals focuses on Tommy Lee Jones' Sam Gerard character. Years after he had hunted Richard Kimble, US Marshals opens with the no-nonsense Gerard doing his usual job of protecting the country by hunting down runaway bad guys. And how does the film introduce our weathered hero, you might ask? In a chicken suit.

That just about sums up the film: the man inside the chicken suit might be tough and serious.... but he is wearing a freaking chicken suit.

After his emasculating boss chewed him out by for an overuse of force (which involved nothing more than hitting one belligerent hand-cuffed guy one time) and suggested strongly that he retire for no other reason but to inspire an "oh no!" from the audience, Gerard is commissioned to track down the fugitive Mark Sheridan (Wesley Snipes). Gerard has his work cut out for him however, as Sheridan is a former Special Forces member and attack-dog for a top-secret government agency who knows how to run, hide, fight, and kill.

As a straight-up action flick, US Marshals works fairly well. The film is entertaining enough for someone to sit through problem-free on a rainy Saturday morning with its enjoyable performances and action scenes. As a comparable sequel to The Fugitive however, US Marshals comes up short - lacking the intelligence, wit, and quality of its predecessor.

Director Stuart Baird (Oscar nominated editor of Superman (1978) and Casino Royale (2006) and director Executive Decision (1996) and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)) tries hard and does an amiable job for what he has to work with. Though Baird never achieves the amount of tension and depth of atmosphere that director Andrew Davis did for The Fugitive, he does bring a certain movement and precision that makes the film flow well. Still, despite what Baird brings to the table, other factors hurt the film.

What really hurts the film is the sloppy action-oriented plot with political overtones and scattered attempts to give depth to the Gerard character that never really work. The Fugitive was a character centered mystery thriller with action scenes thrown in for entertainment value; US Marshals takes a 180 degree turn and becomes an action flick with a shaky political slant and some unfocused character development thrown in for what the filmmakers hope would be taken as substance value. It does not work, however, and the plot for US Marshals ends up sloppy and bloated. Also, the humor factor that Gerard and his team of Marshals brought to The Fugitive is blown out of proportion in US Marshals. The wit and dry humor that worked in The Fugitive is gone, replaced with gimmicks that are quickly dispatched on delivery.

Highly talented film composer Jerry Goldsmith signed on to do the film but ultimately does little to improve upon it. Where James Newton Howard's score to The Fugitive was low-key and eerie, Goldsmith applies his gigantic sound to US Marshals. Contrary to most of his work, Goldsmith's score for US Marshals is very lackluster precisely because it is so big and Goldsmithesque. The epic sounds in US Marshals both feels like a lazy re-hashing of some of Goldsmith's scores of the past and does not quite fit into the scope of the film.

Going the other way are the action scenes which are too reminiscent of The Fugitive: where The Fugitive has a bus/train crash, US Marshals has a plane crash; where The Fugitive sees Kimble escaping by jumping off of a tunnel opening high off the ground, US Marshals sees Sheridan escaping by jumping off a building; and other such examples. The action scenes are put on screen well enough but they unfortunately lack uniqueness and end up rather uninspiring and less exciting than they could have otherwise been.

The cast is a hit, though because no one is really at the top of their game, the cast hits on a weak note. Tommy Lee Jones brings his Samuel Gerard character out of storage, dusts it off and gives an enjoyable performance. Jones does not give the same Oscar-level performance that he did in The Fugitive, but considering the nature of the script he fairs quite well.

Fairing even better is a sorely underused Robert Downey Jr. in the film as Special Agent John Royce. Receiving an Oscar Nomination and BAFTA win years before US Marshals for his amazing portray of Charlie Chaplin in Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992), Downey Jr. is reduced to supporting scene stealer in US Marshals because of his struggle with drugs at the time. What a shame.

Surprisingly fairing the best in the film is Wesley Snipes as Mark Sheridan. It is surprising because, on any other day, Snipes' acting chops come nowhere near the likes of co-stars Jones or Downey Jr. and yet his performance is the most exciting and interesting to watch in this film. Snipes turns most of his banal lines around into listenable dialogue and gives a highly watchable performance of a desperate man struggling for survival and exposing the truth. The rest of Gerard's team as previously seen in The Fugitive - Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, LaTanya Richardson, and Johnny Lee Davenport - all show up and turn in acceptable work, though most of the characters are reduced to yelling comedic props.

Unfortunately, when all is said and done, US Marshals is a film that could have been great but is rather mediocre instead. The quality seen in The Fugitive is simply not repeated in its sequel. The performances and action are enjoyable enough for one to make a fun afternoon out of US Marshals but it does not offer anything particularly great.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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