When The Fugitive was released in 1993, audiences were surprised to find the real star of that movie was not Harrison Ford, but Tommy Lee Jones. His performance as the fugitive hunting U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard garnered Jones an Oscar and established him as a leading man. Not surprisingly, Warner Bros. decided to try and create a franchise around the Sam Gerard character and thus came out with U.S. Marshals. The studio soon realized, however, that as great as Jones was in The Fugitive, Harrison Ford and a great story were both instrumental in the film’s success. U.S. Marshals lacked both.

Marshals marks the continuing adventures of U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). This time he is on the hunt for another fugitive (Wesley Snipes) accused of murdering 2 federal agents during an operation involving the transfer of stolen U.S. intelligence documents to China. Assisting Gerard and his team of Marshals is a federal agent (Robert Downey Jr.).

Tommy Lee Jones by now had patented his Gerard character and he plays the role effortlessly as if it was second nature to him. His character is relentless, focused, and straight to the point. He is the quintessential no-bullshit kind of guy. Had Jones not been a movie star, I think U.S. Marshals would have made for a much better TV series starring Jones as Sam Gerard rather than a movie. As he was in The Fugitive, Jones is compelling to watch and his performance helps move the pacing of the movie along. One issue I had with his character this time around was in how easy everything came to the character and how unconcerned he was with breaking the law to get what he needed. For example, Gerard needs to obtain surveillance camera footage from the U.N. that is highly classified. He is told of the difficulty of getting the footage, but he doesn’t care and somehow and someway he gets it shortly later. There are a number of conveniences like this that occur throughout the movie, which I attribute to lazy writing.

As I state above, one reason why U.S. Marshals doesn’t work is because it didn’t have Harrison Ford. This film may perhaps have worked had the filmmakers found an equally formidable actor, but Wesley Snipes is certainly not it. Snipes doesn’t carry the same weight and presence Ford does. Ford also did not fit the profile of a fugitive on the run. His character was a reputable doctor and someone presumably not physically fit to outrun the cops. This made his ordeal all the more interesting because he had to rely more on his smarts than on any physical prowess. Snipes’ character, on the other hand, is a former CIA black ops who obviously possesses military skills. You know he’s going to rely on his military training and physical abilities to keep ahead of the authorities. This we have seen in many action films and its something common in the action film genre. Consequently, it doesn’t make for an interesting storyline.

Sadly, Robert Downey Jr. is not given much to work with in this film. He plays a federal agent sent to help Gerard and his team track the fugitive. Downey displays few of the wisecrack traits he’s become so famous for in recent years. His character is a relatively serious, overly confident agent who is a supporting role in every sense of the word. Downey plays third fiddle to Jones and Snipes and anyone looking to see Downey Jr. be his funny, arrogant self will be disappointed.

This may be a first for an action film, but the one element that works the best in U.S. Marshals is the supporting cast comprising Sam Gerard’s team of U.S. Marshals. Each character is well developed and extremely likable. The interactions between the Marshals is entertaining and the camaraderie between the characters doesn’t feel forced or fake. As a result, you care for the team members, especially in one particular scene (SPOILERS AHEAD) where one of the Marshals is killed.

Another essential ingredient to the success of The Fugitive that is missing in its sequel is a simple, straightforward storyline. The Fugitive was about a doctor accused of killing his wife and he becomes a fugitive looking for his wife’s real killer. Period. The film depended largely on its 2 strong characters to move the film along rather than rely on an intricate plot. For unknown reasons, the filmmakers decided to go the opposite direction with U.S. Marshals. The story is a convoluted mess thats difficult to follow. I didn’t care about the sub-plot involving stolen intelligence being transmitted to Chinese agents. Consequently, you don’t really care whether or not Wesley Snipes will clear his name and discover the identity of the person who framed him or whether he will be reunited with his lover. As a former CIA agent, you even expect Snipes to be accustomed to running from government authorities and being shot at. In comparison, Harrison Ford’s character was thrown into totally unfamiliar circumstances, which made the audience empathize with him and develop an interest in the final outcome.

Its funny how a film like The Fugitive can still look great since its 1993 release whereas U.S. Marshals already looks horribly dated and it came out later in 1998. At times it looks and feels like an episode of CSI, which is not a good thing for a movie. This sequel should have been kept simple and not have involved government conspiracies and secret agents. This is not something the real U.S. Marshals even get involved with so it makes no sense why they would be involved in this situation. Studios have a tendency to up the ante with their sequels because its an unwritten rule that thats what audiences expect. I don’t believe this is true and as you can see with U.S. Marshals, that plan backfired.

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