British director Stuart Baird takes the helm of 1998's U.S. Marshals, the sort of sequel to The Fugitive. U.S. Marshals certainly doesn't break cinematic ground, but it's a delightfully cheesy popcorn movie that delivers plenty of thrills, action and fun. And the Blu-ray presentation is quite nice.
Wesley Snipes plays Mark, who replaces Harrison Ford as the fugitive relentlessly pursued by Tommy Lee Jones' crabby U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard. As the film starts, Mark is in hiding from the feds, accused of a double murder. He's working as a tow truck driver under an assumed name when he gets in a car accident, and is found out by the police and arrested, much to the distress of his beautiful French girlfriend Marie (Irene Jacob). A botched assassination attempt on Mark causes the transport plane to crash, and he manages to escape, but not before he comes to the notice of Gerard, who is travelling on the same plane.
And thus the chase begins. There are a lot of parallels to The Fugitive. The plane crash is the equivalent of the train smashing into the bus in the original, and Tommy Lee Jones gets to make an approximate repeat of his "henhouse, outhouse and doghouse" speech. But in this case, Jones is the real star of the piece, with everyone else filling out the impressive ensemble. Along with Gerard's usual crew, which includes Joe Pantoliano as Renfro, Daniel Roebuck as Biggs, Tom Woods as Newman and Latanya Richardson as Cooper, is the addition of spunky young Diplomatic Security Service Agent John Royce, played with verve by Robert Downey, Jr.
The team follows Mark through swamps, country roads and big cities, eventually to New York and the United Nations. All the while, we learn more and more about Mark, and begin to wonder whether he is the vicious murderer that the DSS claims, or whether something more sinister is going on. Of course, this isn't the type of film that is trying to ponder the meaning of the universe or plumb the depths of the human soul. It's out to entertain, and does so, never boring the audience or dragging, despite its 131 minute length. There's plenty of humor in between the killings and violence (which are never terribly graphic) and enough action, intrigue and double crosses to satisfy anyone. We even forgive the occasional cheesiness of the dialogue and hard to believe physical feats of Mr. Snipes. Jumping off a building to swing a hundred feet from a steel cable without getting one's arms ripped from their sockets is quite a chore. But this isn't the kind of movie where that matters. It makes a lot of efforts to have a feeling of realism and authenticity, but when that gets in the way of the fun, the fun wins out.
Of course, the performances are all fantastic. Tommy Lee Jones chews up the scenery with gusto, bringing some more depth to Gerard then we saw in The Fugitive, but still clearly having lots of fun. For the first part of the film, a point is made to have him wear silly clothes: a chicken costume (as part of a fugitive takedown), a purple track suit, a too tight tee shirt. But he has the gravitas to do all of this without being a clown. His interactions with his team are still humorous and avuncular. It's hard to say enough about the ensemble cast, since they are all accomplished and have it down pat. Robert Downey, Jr. is appropriately smarmy and wiseass. Wesley Snipes plays his hard boiled spy on the run to perfection. It's good to remember that Snipes is actually quite good at this kind of thing, even wringing enjoyable performances out of such films as Drop Zone and The Art of War. He's earnest and utterly believable in the action sequences, and is weighty enough to play opposite Jones without being overwhelmed.
U.S. Marshals is a worthy successor to The Fugitive. It's a different kind of film: more action and fist fights, less pathos, but it's quite enjoyable. The cast is excellent, and meshes together very well. There are a couple of incredibly impressive set pieces, particularly the plane crash, considering that it was all done practically with models and an actual jet fuselage on a gimble. It's not trying to say anything deep, and we don't need it to. Highly recommended.
The video is 1.85:1 widescreen, and looks very good. This is the first time the film has been released on Blu-ray and the transfer is great. There's some grain evident from time to time, but other than this there are no flaws. The image is bright and crisp, and there are lots of subtle distinctions in the color palette.
Audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel and sounds very sharp and crisp. There's great separation and deep bass notes, which is particularly nice during the actions scenes, and set pieces like the plane crash. It really helps the audience immerse in the action. No hiss or other problems can be heard. Audio tracks are in English, French (both Parisian and Quebecois), German, Spanish (both Castilian and Latin) and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish (Castilian and Latin), Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Dutch and Swedish.
There are a few extras included, although all appear to have been included on the 1998 Special Edition DVD release previously. They are:
Anatomy of the Plane Crash
This is a featurette, coming in at a little under thirteen minutes, that analyzes how they accomplished the plane crash sequence. There are interviews with director Stuart Baird, Maher Ahmed, the production designer, and people on the effects team. The sequence was done practically, and it's quite interesting to see how.
Justice Under the Stars
This feature runs at eighteen and a half minutes, and is really a few smaller pieces put together. It includes a short documentary on the history of the U. S. Marshals, and long trailers for the John Wayne film Cahill U.S. Marshal and Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp. This is pretty slight.
The trailer for the feature is included. It's cheesy, but fun and effective.
Commentary by Stuart Baird,
This is the most significant extra included, and it's a bit disappointing. Baird is a bit distant and too serene, and doesn't seem to get animated unless when talking about the various action set pieces or stunts. He's quite complimentary about the cast, and does share a lot of anecdotes about casting, working on location, etc. But he's somewhat dull, and often pauses for long periods and doesn't talk at all. Overall, the commentary is less than exciting.
U.S. Marshals is a film which is content to do little more than entertain the audience for a couple of hours, but it achieves that goal with remarkable skill and craftsmanship. It's not dated at all in the hiatus since its release in 1998, with perhaps the exception that cell phones have gotten considerably smaller. Warner Brothers has done a smashing job in transferring it to Blu-ray, and the film looks great, though one would have hoped they would have worked up some extra material that we haven't seen before. It's still very much worth the purchase, though. This is a good one.