Monday, December 22, 2014

U.S. Marshals (1998) 2 of 4

Like most people, I thought The Fugitive was a great piece of commercial filmmaking, the kind that used to get called a "crackerjack thrill-ride."  And like most people, I paid much less attention to the sequel U.S. Marshals, although the film pulled a middling $57 million at the U.S. box office.

I remember questioning the wisdom of a sequel focusing on the secondary, standoffish character played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Still, through the years I'd hear good buzz on this film -- good score, better-than-you'd-think, etc. -- so I finally watched it.  My experience backed up what I've said thus far, bad and good.
This is very much from the age when movies were meant to be seen in movie theatres: it's a big, widescreen show, shot on locations in Chicago, New York, and along the Ohio River, the latter being an evocative location considering we're following a white lawman chasing a dark-skinned black man (Wesley Snipes).  It has that fine score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it also has a memorable opening involving Tommy Lee Jones in a chicken suit.

** moderate spoilers ahead **

The problem is that Jones's character, as drawn in the original film, is a human bloodhound: His job is to find and deliver people, not to investigate (thus his famous reply when Harrison Ford denies killing his wife: "I don't care!").  And so in U.S. Marshals, though we sense from the beginning that the Snipes character is being framed, there's a flabby midsection in which, despite lots of good story points, the plot stagnates (some of it's even set in a swamp).
It's too bad, because there's much here to like, but the film never overcomes this structural flaw.  It doesn't help that the resolution seems anticlimactic, blaming everything on minor characters we're not invested in anyway.  

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