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FLASHBACKS: 3/24/1998: "U.S. Marshals"

U.S. Marshals – a sort of a sequel to but also sort of a remake of that cool Oscar-nominated action-thriller The Fugitivecould have been interesting. But it’s littered with the clichés that the first film mostly avoided – too much blood and swearing, obvious victims and villains, no discernible visual style, and banal music by the usually reliable Jerry Goldsmith as opposed to James Newton Howard’s sincere-yet-kinky action rhythms last time.

Deputy Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), the main link to the first film, now is a quasi-celebrity – okay, the film’s worth it just for him. We also meet Mark (Wesley Snipes), a former…no, I won’t say. It’ll suffice that Mark’s been framed by foes in two countries, that he flees from a plane crash, and that he starts to chase down the anti-Mark conspiracy (and get to New York City, and keep in touch with his girlfriend played by Irene Jacob) while Gerard chases him.

Sounds familiar, but the energy level is waaaay down from The Fugitive – this film seems to be sighing. It doesn’t help to have a member of Gerard’s squad whose presence screams “I’m dead meat!,” or that first-time action-thriller actor Robert Downey, Jr. has no energy here.

If the producers had really wanted to maintain the illusion that they were doing this for nobler reasons than to make a load of money, they’d’ve hired a very confident director: John McTiernan, David Fincher, Wolfgang Peterson, John Frankenheimer, or Andrei Konchalovsky come to my mind (or even Jones himself!) – each of whom could’ve done something interesting.

That would’ve been in the spirit of who they hired for the 1993 film: Andrew Davis, who had consistently done well with Above the Law, Code of Silence and Under Siege. Davis made The Fugitive almost a living, breathing entity: he moved quickly and shot the movie in the same sequence of events seen in the final film (unusual in filmmaking), and as a result the production was almost as much of a chase as what we saw in the theater. Davis knew the film’s final destination, story-wise, but he and the writers really re-invented the intervening events as they shot them, always with an eye towards keeping the movie moving – and that’s what helped give The Fugitive its rolling, breathless pace.

As it is, the director here is Stuart Baird, who directed Executive Decision and edited the Lethal Weapon films…and (I fear) who the producers probably hired so they could pretty much make the film themselves.

The film doesn’t seem to understand what makes Jones so appealing: he has a strange, intense dignity that is harmed by his very first appearance here – inside a yellow chicken suit. It’s also yet another flick that seems not to know how to use Wesley Snipes properly (get him in a drama please!), and even little details betray laziness: the same local news station, 2 CBS, is shown covering both the plane crash on the Ohio River and the events in New York City. U.S. Marshals is very polished and it looks good – but it’s still pointless.

[Present-day note: It is nice to know that I wasn’t the only person who thought Tommy Lee Jones is capable of directing a film.]