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'U.S. Marshals' Runs Out of Steam

By Stephen Hunter
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
"U.S. Marshals," like the month that harbors it, roars in lionlike, then slinks out, lamblike – and in silence.

It's not exactly a formal sequel to "The Fugitive" but an odd modern construction that has to be considered a half-sequel: It follows not from that whole movie, but from the part of it that chronicled U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard's pursuit of fleeing doctor Richard Kimble.

Tommy Lee Jones repeats as the butt-bustin', Texas-reared alpha male Deputy Marshal Gerard, big dog of a Chicago-based federal fugitive recovery team. "Do you have to win all the time?" queries a lesser male. "Yes," says Gerard, and the utter laconic stillness of his eyes convinces.

Jones, a grizzled hide-swatch of a man with half-dollars of pure animal grief inscribed into the fallen flesh under those sad, unimpressible eyes, seems to effortlessly sweat testosterone (this guy went to Harvard, where he roomed with Gore? Man, there's a social experiment that didn't take!) while he bristles with dry, cactusy guy humor. He's the best thing in the movie by about a million miles; you can just sit there and groove on his magnetism. In the taxonomy of pleasures, the one he produces is at the top, followed by a plane crash and a stunt, and then by nothing.

Poor Wesley Snipes is this edition's fuge, a seemingly banal tow-truck driver named Mark Sheridan who is picked up in Chicago for a mystery shooting (two government agents) back in New York. Of course he's not what he seems, for if he were, there ain't no movie to be made. He's really some kind of special operations wiz, ex-Marine, and he's on the lam because he's been framed and he knows something big and various shadowy personalities want him silenced. It sounds like a book I once read, or maybe wrote (I can hardly remember).

What frees him is a bit of movie legerdemain that's not as impressive as the train wreck in the first movie, but not to be scoffed at either. This time, it's a con air plane that crash-lands on a band of downstate Ohio highway, deforesting the county of telephone poles, then slides into the big muddy. Snipes's Sheridan alone manages to take off and Gerard, who was riding up front, takes over the manhunt. Yet Sheridan continually confounds Gerard with his resilience, his tactical cunning, his sheer courage and his humanity as he escapes each net and heads to New York.

But Snipes is luckless in the part, which merely demands a lot of scowling, then moving aside to let the stunt double take over. (The movie's other big treat features that nameless individual, who leaps off a building and swings, as if on a bungee cord, to a nearby station roof, then races after the train pulling out and leaps to land upon its roof; that's fun, but it's no movie in itself.)

Less appealing still is Robert Downey Jr. as a government agent seconded under cloudy circumstances to Sam's team, where he's given very little to do. Now and then he has a nice, understated exchange with Sam or one of the others (Joe Pantoliano and Daniel Roebuck are among the other old team members), but mainly he's just there so that the movie has a third act.

And not much of one. It turns out to be one of those lame double-agent things where everybody's working for everybody else, the security of Taiwan (Taiwan!) is at stake, and it never quite lurches into clarity or acquires any real emotional punch. I didn't think the end of "The Fugitive" was so great either: Who wants to watch doctors fistfight on a roof? But by the time it winds down, "U.S. Marshals" has all but destroyed itself. It's gone pffft! in the night.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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