U.S. Marshalls

Mar 11, 1998 at 12:00 am

Some actors are born to play certain roles. Burt Reynolds, for example, can flex a brow like no other, bringing a certain genteel sleaze to a horny senator (Striptease) or a paternalistic pornographer (Boogie Nights). Tommy Lee Jones has that voice, part edgy Southern gentleman (James Carville without the caffeine), part Harvard erudite. Even when one's eyes have begun to close in the flabby midsection of U.S. Marshals, the ears stay awake, luxuriating in Tommy's acerbic purr.

Even at first blush, a sequel to The Fugitive seemed a dubious idea, in spite of Jones' Oscar for the supporting role. Harrison Ford's character would be out of the mix, leaving Tommy Lee and his crew of badges (including tight-lipped sidekick Joe Pantoliano) to do the heavy lifting on their own. A new front man would be needed. And that role has fallen to the highly likable Wesley Snipes as a mysterious assassin on the lam from the cops after the requisite, opportune demise of a prison transport vehicle, a plane that crashes into a swamp. Also along for the chase is Robert Downey Jr. as a government agent out to avenge the death of a couple of his buddies.

Somewhere in the tangle of plot twists and turns is the possibility of a government conspiracy involving a Chinese spy ring and that craven corps of black helicopters, the United Nations. We learn also that Snipes' character is an ex-CIA operative used in covert missions. Then we fall asleep, awaking now and again when director Stuart Baird (Executive Decision) delivers one of his trademark explosions or batteries of gunplay. Alas, by then, you will have lost any orientation to the plot and, hence, any interest.

What prevents U.S. Marshals from being a better film is the fact that Snipes' character is no Richard Kimball. He is, in short, a bad guy from the opening frames, prowling and pouncing his way into the bad graces of Jones. This is not a man trying to stay alive long enough to prove his innocence. This is a man trying to beat a rap he deserves. And when you've seen enough of these things, the bottom line is: So What?

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