I was set up from the word go.
After 1993’s The Fugitive became a huge blockbuster and multiple Academy Award nominee, a sequel was a no-brainer. The question was, how to sequelize it? Have Dr. Richard Kimball be framed and on the run a second time? No, wiser heads prevailed, and instead the film was built around Tommy Lee Jones’s Oscar-winning role as the never-gives-up U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard.
Following a murder of high-profile diplomats in New York, the recently-arrested Mark Sheridan (Wesley Snipes, Blade) survives a catastrophic plane crash and goes on the run. Also surviving the crash is Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black), who heads the pursuit while investigating Sheridan’s connection to the murders.
When U.S. Marshals came out, the rumor at the time was that producers hoped it would kick off a whole series of films, with Gerard tracking down a different fugitive, played by a different celebrity, in each one. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems a possibility. Instead of showing us Gerard’s past or his home life, the movie more or less plays by The Fugitive’s playbook, with very few scenes depicting Gerard not on the job. We see a girlfriend at one point, and there’s a reference to a past relationship, but other than that, it’s pretty much Gerard being a tough cop doing tough cop stuff. Fortunately, Tommy Lee Jones excels as this type of character, the “just doing my job” flavor of tough guy, driven to catch the bad guys no matter what, but not without taking a moment or two to make wisecracks with his fellow cops.
Our fugitive this time around is Wesley Snipes as Sheridan. He’s good in the role, but we never really get to know him as well as we did Harrison Ford’s character in the first film. The crisis this time is less emotional and more cerebral. Snipes’ refrain of “I was set up from the word go,” just doesn’t have as much emotional resonance as Ford’s refrain of “I didn’t kill my wife.” The filmmakers try to set up a mystery of sorts, as the audience doesn’t know what Sheridan’s relation to the crime is, but because everything is so influenced by The Fugitive, it’s more about the chase than the case. Still, Snipes brings some great intensity to the role, and he’s great in the action scenes as well. He might not be knocking out guys with roundhouse kicks, but notice how he doesn’t just jump over a fence, he nearly flies over it.
Part of the fun of bringing back Gerard is bringing back his team of deputy marshals (a.k.a. sidekicks) who were at his side in The Fugitive. Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix), Tom Wood (Apollo 13), Daniel Roebuck (Final Destination) and LaTayna Richardson (Lone Star) are all great in this film. Their characters are distinct and memorable, and their easygoing camaraderie feels genuine. Also along for the ride is Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) as a jerk government agent who’s assigned to work with Gerard and his team. Downey tries to bring some cocky attitude to the character, but this is Jones’s movie, and Downey can’t quite compete.
Even though the story doesn’t have a lot of character development backing it, it certainly has a lot of action. The opening plane crash scene is appropriately harrowing, but never filmed in a confusing manner. The middle of the film is an entire single chase sequence that begins on a busy city street, then moves to a huge graveyard, and then up and down the floors of a multi-story apartment building, ending with one of the movie’s biggest stunts. It’s an exhausting ride, with car crashes, gunshots, foot chases, and more. The big set piece at the finale tries, but can’t compete with the big chase at the center of the story.
Also, a chicken costume? Really?
For a catalogue release, U.S. Marshals looks and sounds excellent on Blu-ray. Early scenes taking place in a Kentucky swamp are a standout, with a lot of greens and browns and swampy textures. The audio is great as well, especially when the Jerry Goldsmith score kicks in. Bonus features have been ported over from the DVD—a commentary with director Stuart Baird (Star Trek: Nemesis), two featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.
U.S. Marshals delivers a lot of action and a showcase performance for Tommy Lee Jones. While it never fully steps out from under the shadow of The Fugitive, it’s still a fun ride.