Warner Bros. // 1998 // 131 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 30th, 2000
The cop who won't stop is back.
Ever wonder what happened to Marshal Sam Gerard after the end of The Fugitive? He hunts someone else down in U.S. Marshals, the sequel built on the strength of the Oscar winning performance of Tommy Lee Jones (Natural Born Killers, Lonesome Dove) in the role. While it doesn't match the intense charm of the original, it is quite satisfactory (if long-winded) as an action vehicle and character piece. Warner Bros. has done everything right with a great anamorphic transfer and soundtrack, with extras all at a budget line price.
You have to give Tommy Lee Jones credit where it is due. Other than his role as Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove, the character of Sam Gerard is his best work. He has made this character alive and real, and indelibly his own. He took the Supporting Actor Oscar in The Fugitive, and it was perhaps inevitable that a sequel would be made. Here he is the same curmudgeonly gruff self, but with the little touches of humanity that also graced the character in the original film. He plays the part perfectly, and this film focuses a bit more on the interaction with the fine supporting cast playing his team of deputies, with a standout performance by Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix). I like him in this role as Cosmo more than most of his roles as scumbags or villains.
Robert Downey Jr. does a great job as well as the State Department agent assigned to work with Gerard and his team, with a James Bond sense of style and abilities. While I didn't think director Stuart Baird (Executive Decision) took the right track with Wesley Snipes, his performance as the fugitive Sheridan was strong as well.
Before I stray too far into details, I should provide the synopsis of the story. A tow truck driver has been charged with two murders he may or may not have committed. When he is on a prison transport flight with Marshal Sam Gerard, the plane crash lands and Wesley Snipes escapes. Naturally Gerard and his team must smoke him out and use every tool and trick of the trade to track and apprehend him. But this fugitive is not all he seems, and is far more capable than they realize. A conspiracy has as its goal to see that this fugitive is killed rather than caught. Will Gerard get his man, and will justice be done? What do you think?
Baird did give a lot of attention to the action scenes, and his direction of the many action set pieces and chase scenes was first rate. I give respect where it is due for his use of a camera and expert knowledge of editing. There are plenty of thrilling chases, crashes, and escapes. The plane crash was nearly as big of a thrill as the train wreck in the first film, and that is saying something.
Warner has had a budget line of discs for some time, usually retailing at $19.95 and selling for under $15. Most of them do not have anamorphic transfers, outstanding soundtracks, or multiple extras, but this one has all of them. I'm exceedingly pleased with the value of this disc. This anamorphic transfer has the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is sharp and incredibly detailed. The picture is crisp, smooth, and very film-like, with vivid colors and virtually no artifacts. I did detect one quick shot where there was a little breakup, but this is a first rate picture, and on an early disc no less.
The soundtrack is equally outstanding. This Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is aggressive from all channels, with plenty of punch, and is one to test your system's capabilities. Your subwoofer will definitely be put to the test during the plane crash, but every gunshot also has that realistic punch as well. Dialogue is spread across the front soundstage and always sounds clear and free of distortion. Directionality and panning is excellent, and the surrounds get plenty of use; providing imagery from both rear corners and the spaces between. The soundfield is neatly enveloping for a fine audio experience.
Warner didn't skimp on the extras as they normally do on their budget discs. There is a commentary track by director Stuart Baird, which gives insight into his motivations behind the camera and for the movie as a whole. Unfortunately the commentary doesn't run for the whole feature, and you are instructed to skip chapters to resume hearing his comments.
The disc is two sided, and the flip side has two features. The first is a 19-minute look at the history of the U.S. Marshal's office, and I found it both interesting and enlightening. The other is "Anatomy of a Plane Crash," which uses several short segments to describe every aspect of how the plane crash was done; including real airline fuselages being mounted on gimbals that could rotate the entire plane, along with 60 foot, 1000 lb. models. Comments from the director, effects supervisor, and production designer accompany these segments. There are also production notes, thorough cast and crew information, three TV spots and the trailer for the film, along with a bonus trailer for The Fugitive. It is a real special edition for a budget disc price of under $14 online. A great value.
All was not roses and thrills with this movie. Most sequels are not up to the quality and interest level of the original, and this one isn't either. For one thing, the movie is too long at 131 minutes. The film doesn't actually get going until the 25-minute mark, and I felt about 15 minutes of that could have been cut. More importantly, however, Wesley Snipes came off as entirely too capable and his guilt or innocence was left in doubt too long to really root for him. In The Fugitive you felt for both Gerard and Dr. Kimball, and you knew the good doctor was innocent. Here Snipes shoots at officers, takes hostages, and acts in ways that doesn't endear you to him early on. While the film tries to give a balanced approach of both chaser and chased, it takes awhile for you to even like the fugitive character, and you never feel like he is incapable of dealing with his pursuers. In a strange way, we want the fugitive to need us to root for him, and he doesn't need us here.
There are valid complaints about how much is drawn from other films here. We have more than one part The Fugitive, with a dash of Con Air and a few other films for good measure. Of course it is a sequel and I'm sure they felt a need to emulate the first film.
My complaints with the disc are minor but worth mentioning. I would have much rather not had to skip something like 12 out of the 40 chapters when hearing the commentary track. While I certainly prefer it to long pauses without any idea of how long they will last, I would rather he commented during the whole film rather than try to fit myself back into the film at each point he gives comment. Likewise, I'd have much preferred a dual layered disc with everything on one side instead of having to flip it for the features. Still, this was the early days when there were few dual layer discs and at least the whole film is on one side.
Despite its flaws, and the inevitable comparison to the first film, U.S. Marshals stands well as an action picture. The strengths of the performances, the great action scenes, and the taut tension and timing before and during them override the weak points. No, it isn't as great as The Fugitive, a film I liked very much. But it's pretty good, and well worth the money Warner is charging for this fine special edition. I recommend it.
U.S. Marshals is acquitted on its own merits rather than being fined for not being as good as its predecessor. Warner Bros. is highly commended on a fine special edition disc at a price less than many charge for bare bones and poor transfers. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Directors Commentary
* Two Featurettes
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Info
* TV Spots