U.S. Marshals (1998)
Release Date: March 6th, 1998 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Stuart Baird Actors: Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr., Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, LaTanya Richardson, Irene Jacob, Kate Nelligan
t begins with an over-the-top, blown-out-of-proportion tow truck accident, attempting to mirror the spectacular bus/train wreck sequence from “The Fugitive.” Following that is an undercover bust with Chief Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) in the lead, dressed in a Chiko Rama chicken costume, complete with yellow tights. Starting off in Chicago, Gerard’s entire crew is back, including U.S. Marshals Cosmo Renfro (Joe Pantoliano), Bobby Biggs (Daniel Roebuck), and Noah Newman (Tom Wood); unfortunately, Harrison Ford as Richard Kimble couldn’t be squeezed into a cameo.
The music has changed from James Newton Howard to Jerry Goldsmith, but the plot remains nearly the same. Mark Sheridan (Wesley Snipes) is being transferred via airplane to New York for a murder charge, accompanied by a gang of fellow convicts and Gerard himself. When a prisoner manages to shoot a hole through the window, the plane is forced to make an emergency highway landing in a gloriously destructive, fiery fashion that culminates in an upside down cabin flood (a la “The Poseidon Adventure”) – yet another endeavor for the film to outdo its predecessor.
It’s revealed that Sheridan, a particularly deadly, highly skilled ex-military man, has stolen top-secret U.S. Air Force defense plans for Korea from special agents at the UN building. Brash, headstrong Agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) is assigned to accompany Gerard and his men, creating another filmic opportunity for butting heads, comedic spats, and eventual camaraderie. But Downey Jr. almost possesses too strong of a personality, which threatens to compete with Jones. Fortunately, that never quite happens. The high-stakes pursuit stretches from the swamps of Kentucky to Pennsylvania to New York, where pieces of the puzzle are finally introduced and light is shed on Sheridan’s true involvement.
“We’ve got a fugitive,” matter-of-factly states the unforgettable Samuel Gerard. It’s not surprising that Tommy Lee Jones’ Academy Award-winning performance would spawn further adventures, even though the absence of Harrison Ford feels like something crucial is lacking. Jones picks up right where he left off, using similar dialogue, mannerisms, and his smug, gung-ho, never-impressed attitude; this time, however, he’s up against an escapee that isn’t immediately identified as anything but a ruthless murderer. It’s practically a mistake, making Snipes harder to sympathize with. At least, he’s given a love interest: Starbucks employee Marie Bineaux (Irene Jacob), designed to warm Sheridan up to the audience; Gerard merely gets a date with a sexy reporter (Vaitiare Bandera).
Although “U.S. Marshals” is a competent thriller with solid acting and electrifying stunts, there are a few too many similarities and parallels to “The Fugitive.” Unforgivably, it’s reminiscent of a remake, since the idea of Gerard repeating his hunt for a nearly identical felon is improbable even in a fictional scenario. Sheridan makes a fake ID, rents a house that is also raided by the police when he’s out collecting evidence to clear his name, dons disguises, and goes out of his way to avoid killing people (yet is assumed to be responsible when authorities are shot). And of course, the escape from imprisonment itself and the lengthy flee all happen for a second time. Gerard must be one incredibly unlucky cop.
– Mike Massie