'Marshals' doesn't do cast justice

March 06, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"The Fugitive" wouldn't have been nearly as good a movie if it had concentrated on the pursuer rather than the pursued.

That's the problem with "U.S. Marshals," which brings back Tommy Lee Jones as the coldly efficient Sam Gerard. Five years ago, he was tracking Harrison Ford as a doctor wrongly accused of murdering his wife. Today, he's tracking Wesley Snipes as a former marine accused -- it takes a while to find out if rightly or wrongly -- of murdering three federal agents.

"The Fugitive" was a great film, as much because of the dynamic between Jones and Ford as for the incredible stunts and special effects. "U.S. Marshals" gets the stunts and effects right, but it sorely misses the dynamic.

Still, the filmmakers try, first by introducing a haggard-looking Robert Downey Jr. as a federal agent Gerard is forced to endure, and then by concocting a plot so labyrinthine that the characters become almost secondary.

But in a great film, the characters are never secondary.

Apprehended after a car crash lands him in the hospital, Mark Sheridan (Snipes) is put on a plane to New York, where he's wanted by the police. Gerard's also on the plane, with some felons he's captured. But an assassination attempt on the plane causes it to crash into the Ohio River.

All the prisoners except one -- Sheridan -- are accounted for. Which gives Gerard the chance to say the line we've all been waiting for: "We have a fugitive here."

Only we don't have the fugitive; Snipes is good, but he's no Harrison Ford, and his Mark Sheridan is no Richard Kimble.

Director Stuart Baird and screenwriter John Pogue know what audiences want, and they try giving it to them: the plane crash harks back to the earlier film's train crash, while a jump off a New York City skyscraper is meant to recall Kimble's death-inviting leap off the top of a dam.

But they err in focusing most of the attention on Gerard. Jones won a much-deserved Oscar for his first turn as the marshal who knows his job is to capture fugitives, regardless of guilt or innocence. He's just as single-minded this time around and Jones is as good as ever.

But as fun as Jones is to watch, his one-dimensional character isn't strong enough to carry a film.

'U.S. Marshals'

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes and Robert Downey Jr.

Directed by Stuart Baird

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG-13 (violence, language)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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