A while back I watched The Fugitive… and apparently it slipped my mind to review it. Either that, or I reviewed it somewhere else and can’t find it anymore. So, in short, I enjoyed the movie, and decided that (eventually), I would watch the film’s spiritual sequel – US Marshals. This review is going to get into some spoilers, but I’m keeping them below the cut. However, you are warned.
The film follows Deputy US Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and his team of officers, who previously hunted Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. In this film, Gerard is on a convict transfer plane carrying (among others) a recently apprehended fugitive by the name of Mark Roberts (Wesley Snipes). The plane crashes when another inmate on the plane attempts to kill Roberts with a “Zip Gun” (a single shot short-barreled pistol disguised as a ballpoint pen) that was planted on the plane. The assassination attempt not only fails, but leads to the explosive decompression of the plane, and the assassin’s ejection from the plane due to the decompression. After the crash, Roberts escapes, in the hopes of getting the information he needs to clear his name.
After the crash (and after Gerard has called his team to help him catch Roberts), Gerard and company learn that Roberts is believed to be the killer of two DSS (Diplomatic Security Service) agents, and gets DSS Agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) attached to his team. Thus the manhunt begins.
Director Stuart Baird takes great pains to keep the film consistent with the previous film in the series. All of the actors who played members of Gerard’s team in The Fugitive–including Joe Pantoliono–reprise their roles in this film. They re-use physical locations from The Fugitive when they re-use script locations (like the Chicago US Marshal’s Office), whenever possible, and so-on. It’s a lot of little Hidden Highlights that really help make the two films feel like a cohesive whole, even though there are 4 years between the films. However, if you haven’t seen The Fugitive, the film stands perfectly well on its own, something which a lot of sequels don’t necessarily do.
The acting is also rock solid. Tommy Lee Jones puts in an excellent performance, as does Downey Jr. However, I’d say the best performance of the film goes to Snipes. Snipes has gotten a reputation, especially considering some of the other action movies he’s done through the mid-to-late 90s (such as Blade – which was released the same year ) for playing lots of snarling badasses, who-may-or-may-not also be martial artists. Here, while his character is an government agent who was thrown out into the cold, and who is a good shot and good in combat, he’s the opposite of the bad-ass he’s been typecast as – and Snipes is able to pull this role off. Frankly, that’s probably one of the most important acting points in this film since, like Kimble in The Fugitive, Roberts is working to clear his name, and his hunt for the truth is an important part of the film’s plot. If we can’t emphasize with Roberts, then we want Gerard to catch him more than we want Roberts to get the proof–or at the very least, we stop caring about the proof, and start caring more about the cat and mouse (and we start rooting for the cat).
Now, the film does have its faults. The film does a great job keeping its suspense thriller pace when Gerard is hunting down Roberts through the back woods of Missouri and the streets of New York. However, the film has some big plot holes when it comes to the character of Royce. This is where the spoilers come in – so stop skip this section if you want to avoid said spoilers. The problems up when you consider that Royce is the mole in the DSS. On the one hand, Royce has access to these major secrets that he’s giving to the Chinese. He’s also high enough that he can quietly frame Roberts as the person selling secrets, without Roberts (or anyone else) being the wiser. That in and of itself isn’t so bad. However, he’s also in a position where having him taking part in the manhunt as a subordinate to Gerard isn’t out-of-place. I know that you have to account for a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but this is probably one of the easiest things in the film to fix. You change it so that Royce is in on the plot, and the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service, Bertram Lamb (who assigns Royce to be with Gerard) is either the real mole and either give him a lower rank in the DSS (so it doesn’t look so bad), or leave him as the Director so it makes the conspiracy look more far reaching. It’s an easy fix, that requires, at the most, the addition of a few lines of dialog in various earlier scenes in the film, and one scene towards the end of the film. However, this is a big nitpick – one that stuck out to me, but a nitpick nonetheless.
Ultimately, this is an enjoyable thriller. It’s not even a dumb thriller. It’s not totally smart either, but it’s internally consistent, it doesn’t cheat, and the plot hole over how much clout Royce has in the DSS is the only plot hole I spotted. I’m going to recommend this movie, even if you haven’t watched The Fugitive. I’m not going to say it’s the best movie released that year (especially since Saving Private Ryan was released that year) but I would put it in my Top 5 films of 1998.