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US Marshals is the hardly-anticipated sequel to The Fugitive, and mediocrity follows it wherever it goes. Offering an inferior parallel to every dramatic twist and every stunt in the original (a plane crash for the train crash, a jump off a high-rise building for the high-dive into the river), it follows The Fugitive's footsteps so closely that it's more of a remake than a sequel.
As far as the storyline is concerned, the major difference between the two films is in the focus. In The Fugitive, the protagonist was the man on the run, the heroic, misunderstood underdog; and the marshal was the roguish, quick-talking man we loved to hate. In US Marshals you're invited to identify with the chasers. This, as is so often the case in Hollywood film-making, was not an artistic decision, but a production mutation (since Harrison Ford said "nope" to reprising his role, Tommy Lee Jones must now carry the film) and it creates a fatal dramatic imbalance.
Admittedly, Marshal Gerard can summon heavy machinery and hundreds of eager, uniformed men (including Robert Downey Jr and Joe Pantoliano, who are totally wasted) with one bark. But in film, unlike football, it's far less satisfying to root for the side with the upper hand.
To compound our frustration even more, Gerard's character hasn't been developed further to accommodate the demands of this leading role, and Jones, who gave a knockout, show-stealing supporting performance in The Fugitive, is suddenly and disappointingly one-note. He's always much more effective in the role of the antagonist, when his tough, rapid, Cagney-style deadpan bounces off the honest hero. But here, Jones is the `good' hero, and the secondary role falls to Wesley Snipes. While Ford's wronged doctor was a regular guy having to cope with irregular situations (the old Hitchcock formula), Snipes is a superman from the word go. He's trained to deal with situations like this and he's a master of disguise who finds it second nature to go undercover. So you know that when Jones growls, "We're going to search every house, hospital, hotel, back road and back-water," they're not going to find him.
US Marshals merely spins through the pursuit-thriller motions. The escapee can take care of him-self and you can spot the bad guy within minutes of his arrival, while chaser and chasee miss each other for much of the movie.
You might say that what really matters in an action film are the chases and the stunts, and the wham-bams in US Marshals are competently handled - the plane crash is an eye-opener, while a sequence in a swamp is a rollicking good thriller. But they're nothing you haven't seen before, bar the photogenic locations.
Regrettably, Stuart Baird's by-the-numbers direction doesn't exploit its suggestive potential to the full. Snipes' (or rather his double's) bungee-jump off the roof of a high-rise and onto a moving train is impressive, but I've seen muchmore elaborate and exciting stuff in old Harold Lloyd films.
There's no real suspense and no real interaction between the shallow characters. Déjà vu strikes at regular intervals and not even Tommy Lee Jones can save it. US Marshals is to The Fugitive what Speed 2 is to Speed. Rent the prequel instead.
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