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'U.S. Marshals' Gets Its Man

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 1998

  Movie Critic

U.S. Marshals
Tom Lee Jones returns as Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard. (Warner Bros.)

Stuart Baird
Tommy Lee Jones;
Robert Downey Jr.;
Wesley Snipes;
Irene Jacob;
Joe Pantoliano
Running Time:
2 hours, 15 minutes
For violence and profanity
In "U.S. Marshals," Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), a very familiar lawman, is faced with a very familiar dilemma. A prisoner escort plane, which was carrying Gerard and more than a dozen convicts, has crash-landed into the swampy Ohio River.

As Gerard and his deputies (including Joe Pantoliano) count their fellow survivors, they realize one prisoner, known as Roberts (Wesley Snipes), is missing, but definitely alive. When the inexperienced local sheriff gives an order to launch checkpoints within a 10-mile radius, Gerard buries his face in his hands.

The audience will love it. At this moment, the character is tacitly acknowledging that we've all seen "The Fugitive," in which Gerard launched a similar hunt for the escaped Chicago surgeon Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), accused of murdering his wife.

"I want a hard-target search of any residence, gas station, farmhouse, henhouse, doghouse and outhouse in that area," Gerard barked in the 1993 movie, ordering his men to establish checkpoints at 15 miles.

Here we go again. "We got a fugitive," says Gerard. Those outhouses are going to have to be rechecked. Once again, the escapee is on foot, very smart and convinced of his innocence. But hey, times have changed a little. Gerard orders the sheriff to amend his order to a 20-mile radius.

Yes, this is another case of Hollywood sequel mongering, but although this film doesn't have the classy quality of "The Fugitive," it certainly goes down like an action milkshake. And Jones, one of the most enjoyable actors on the screen, plays himself to the hilt.

"Get a Glock," he tells ultra-cool diplomatic security service agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.), who struts around with a slick, silver gun. "Lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol."

As for Snipes, an icon of his own, he does the business with effortless cool. To reveal too much about him is to spoil the story but, at the beginning, he's a Chicago tow-truck driver who's caught in an accident. After being released from the hospital, he's arrested because his fingerprints match those found at the scene of a double murder in New York City. Transported in the "con-air" plane, Roberts uses the confusion caused by the plane crash to make his escape.

Director Stuart Baird (who also did the gripping "Executive Decision") runs the show with a smart eye and a metronome ticking somewhere in his mind. Every story beat is expertly planned and executed. The banter among characters is funny. ("How long y'all gonna be?" the sheriff asks Gerard and his men as they set off into the swamps, looking for Roberts. "I got PTA tonight.") The action races along. And not surprisingly for a Baird production (he was a former editor), the movie's cut fabulously.

The joy of the movie is in anticipating the meeting between the two men-Roberts and Gerard-and finding out the real deal. And you know there's a real deal behind all this.

Well, there it is. There's not much more to be said, except that though "U.S. Marshals" doesn't have the lasting value of the original, it's certainly got the goods.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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