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U.S. Marshals

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes; Robert Downey Jr. and Joe Pantoliano
Screenplay by John Pogue
Directed by Stuart Baird

IN SHORT:  A Solid sequel.

As always, Cranky makes no comparison to Source Material, The Fugitive television show of the 1960s and its magnificent adaptation to the big screen back in 1993.

Well, almost.

There are a pair of obvious nods to the flick that starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. A spectacular plane crash landing takes the place of the train crash that freed the Fugitive, and a suicidal escape (already revealed in the television commercial) is duplicated. The basic plot, determined lawman chases down an escaped fugitive, is a storytelling standard. This time out, the trick is to make lightning strike twice and keep it interesting all at the same time. U.S. Marshals doesn't surpass the original, few sequels do, but it is a damned fine piece of entertainment.

In The Fugitive, U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Jones) was shown to be an incredibly focused lawman whose duty to the law remained his top priority even after discovering evidence proving the innocence of the man he hunted. U.S. Marshals places a greater emphasis on the team that Gerard leads, and upon his place in the legal food chain. Thus, he must report to a superior officer (Kate Nelligan) and he gets saddled with an agent from a different government office (Robert Downey Jr.), who carries his own bag of bad news. He and Gerard will conflict many times before the movie is over)

The sitch: A traffic accident in Chicago puts tow truck driver Mark Roberts (Wesley Snipes), into the hospital. Cops at the scene, finding a gun hidden in the truck, run Robert's fingerprints through their computer. What shows up is a Federal warrant revealing his true identity as Mark Sheridan, accused of the murder of two Federal agents.

Busted in the hospital, the filmstory makes clear that Sheridan is not the virgin innocent that his lovely French girlfriend (Irene Jacob) believes him to be. Early on we see the wheels turning in his head, as his survival instincts prepares him own escape attempt. This is a man who is on the run, even before Fate sticks its fickle finger into the story.

As in the first flick, there is a spectacular accident (this time out it's a plane crash) which frees this "innocent" man. When Sam Gerard utters the line "We've got a fugitive" the preview sighed appreciably and settled in for the ride.

The pursuit is an elaborate one, leading from the swamps of Kentucky to the steel canyons of New York City. Now, Gerard is the focus of this flick and because of that some of the power of the original is drained off. In 1993, Tommy Lee Jones' Gerard was driven. 1998's Gerard is more human, the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. He buys the beer after a successful bust. He is father figure and taskmaster to his agents, and he takes their successes and failures personally. Of this team, though, only Cosmo Renfro (Joe Pantoliano) stands out.

Fugitive Sheridan is out to clear is name and "get righteous," but there is no sense of the utter despair and desperation that dominated the last edition. Rather than a simple black and white story, we are confronted with many shades of grey. Sheridan has a secret identity, involving secret government agencies and "black ops." He has knowledge of traitors within and so, must be removed from the scene. Thus, the murder frame. Thus, an attempted assassination on the con-air jet that sets the film in motion.

The failing of U.S. Marshals, and when push comes to shove it is a minor one, is that most of the supporting story is just plain confusing. There's something to do with the Chinese government buying military secrets. There's something about a traitor in the highest levels of our intelligence services. The pieces don't fit together neatly. But the preview audience Cranky sat with wanted to watch a good chase, and that they got.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to U.S. Marshals, he would have paid . . .


As a stand alone piece, U.S. Marshals is a shade long. But the chase is fun and the characters are funny (you'll be surprised how funny some of the situations are) and all in all, it's a good time in the dark.
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