ommy Lee Jones is one of those well-known actors who possesses a ton of talent and charisma and has made a boatload of movies. Yet I’m betting you know him best from his co-starring roles in “The Fugitive” and the “Men in Black” series. Maybe he’s forever destined to be that great supporting player or that terrific co-star. In “U.S. Marshals,” the 1998 follow-up to the 1993 hit “The Fugitive,” we see a perfect example of what I mean.
You remember “The Fugitive,” where the state convicts an innocent man (played by Harrison Ford) of murdering his wife, the man escapes after a train wreck, and a shrewd and relentless U.S. Marshal, Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar-winning performance), tracks him down, slowly recognizing as he does so that the man he’s pursuing probably is innocent. That movie was a huge success, thanks no doubt to Ford’s presence but also to the capable work of Jones in the supporting role. Consequently, the filmmakers, eyeing another hit, thought maybe Jones and Jones’s character could go it alone in “U.S. Marshals,” but, alas, it was not to be.
Now, see if any of this sounds familiar: The U.S. Marshal’s Office assigns Supervisory U.S. Marshal Gerard (Jones) to accompany a group of prisoners aboard an airplane en route from Chicago to New York. Wesley Snipes plays one of the prisoners on the plane, and he claims he’s an innocent man, that he did not kill the two government agents the Defense Security Service accuse him of murdering. The plane crash lands, and Snipe’s character helps Gerard save several people. Then Snipe’s character escapes, with Gerard forever doing what he does best–pursuing him. So, a plane wreck replaces a train wreck, and Snipes replaces Ford. But is Snipe’s character really innocent? He does go out of his way to let people live, so it sure seems so.
Here’s the thing: A prologue of surveillance tape shows the killing of the two government agents by a shadowy figure the government says is Snipe’s character, and whatever is going down in the scene has something to do with espionage, government secrets, and definitely murder. In other words, the movie reveals a good part of its mysteries from the very beginning.
Then, in the first major sequence of the movie, we get the unrelated story of Gerard reduced to catching a baddie while dressed in a chicken suit (no, really, a chicken suit). This situation develops into a fight scene that it seems the filmmakers intended solely for fun; it’s as though they wanted to show how ridiculous they could make Gerard look and then prove how tough he is. None of it works.
Carrying over even more from “The Fugitive,” the filmmakers provide Gerard with most of his old team: Deputy Marshal Cosmo Renfro (Joe Pantoliano), Deputy Marshal Bobby Biggs (Daniel Roebuck), Deputy Marshal Henry (Johnny Lee Davenport), and Deputy Marshal Noah Newman (Tom Wood). Then, to spice things up further, we get a new character assigned to the team: DSS Special Agent John Royce (Robert Downey, Jr.), a cocky sort of guy to whom Gerard takes an immediate dislike.
The fact is, if this weren’t so much a rehash of “The Fugitive,” it might have been a decent crime thriller. As it is, it’s a very ordinary thriller because it’s so imitative, with screenwriter John Pogue (“Rollerball,” “Ghost Ship,” “The Skulls”) and director Stuart Baird (“Executive Decision,” “Star Trek: Nemesis”) content to capitalize on almost every predictable circumstance and well-worn cliché they could find.
“The Fugitive” was about the man pursued. “U.S. Marshals” is about the pursuer. Gerard’s perpetually cranky character and Jones’s perpetually cranky performance can only go so far to carry the film. And Snipes’s character, a kind of Superman in his almost preternatural abilities, is nevertheless of secondary importance.
If you’ve seen “The Fugitive,” you’ve pretty much seen “U.S. Marshals,” too, only you got twice the main characters for your buck.
The 1.85:1 ratio picture quality, which Warner engineers transferred to Blu-ray disc using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec, is probably as good as it can be. The image is beautifully clear, with definition excellent most of the time and only occasional lapses of minor softness. Colors are deep and vivid, with solid blacks and glistening whites. Facial tones are lifelike; and a fine, natural print grain provides a realistic texture. There’s little to complain about here.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does exactly what it should do to make an action thriller thrilling: It displays a wide dynamic range, with very clean, very taut transient impact. It exhibits good midrange clarity and a strong bass. And it has plenty of effectively placed surround sounds, especially during the plane crash, in the swamp scenes, and during the inevitable helicopter flyovers.
The three primary extras on the disc are an audio commentary by director Stuart Baird; a nine-part featurette, “Anatomy of a Plane Crash,” about thirteen minutes detailing the crash in storyboards and behind-the-scenes material; and “Justice Under the Star,” about eighteen minutes on the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
The extras wrap with a healthy forty scene selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired. The disc comes housed in a flimsy Blu-ray Eco-case.
“U.S. Marshals” is a kind of “what if” film. Only this time, the question is, What if the screenwriter had not so consciously tried to copy “The Fugitive”? “U.S. Marshals” is not a bad film; it’s just a very derivative one, with not enough of its own voice to persuade us it’s anything more than a copycat. Tommy Lee Jones is still good, and the supporting cast do their best. It’s just not enough.