Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:18 - Released 3/6/98

Being a sequel to a movie that is generally thought of as one of the best of the genre is a difficult assignment for any movie. The Fugitive (1993) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, and Tommy Lee Jones won for Best Supporting Actor. Now, with U.S. Marshals, we must continue without Harrison Ford, without that film's four-man writing team, and without the distinction of being first, which is important. Still, director Stuart Baird has packed U.S. Marshals with nail-biting moments; in fact, the early plane crash sequence is one of the most exciting I've ever seen.

Unfortunately, the film continues to lose altitude even after the jet is on the ground. Flying a group of federal prisoners to another facility, Chief Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard (Jones) is head of the group of federal lawmen in charge. Sheridan (Wesley Snipes) is one of the prisoners, who has been accused of murdering two top G-men. But when one prisoner explodes a bomb, a large hole is blown in the side of the plane, causing it to decompress just like in Airport (1970). But this time there is no Dean Martin to bring the plane in safely. It flops upside down into a lake in the middle of the night, and the marshals round up survivors. In the morning, Sheridan is the only one missing. So the manhunt begins.

Much to Gerard's dismay, he and his team are not going to be allowed to conduct the search by themselves. The federal agency who employed Sheridan's alleged victims have a vested interest in bringing in the killer, so agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) is assigned to tag along. Gerard is forced to deal with a new man in his group, a loose cannon who wants to out-tough-guy the tough guys.

Apart from Kate Nelligan, who plays Gerard's boss (and who can't seem to deliver a line effectively), the acting isn't bad in this movie. Jones, Snipes, and Downey all are excellent as usual. But let's face it — they're not exactly breaking new ground character-wise. Writer John Pogue has stuck closely to the action/adventure formula in his first outing since being one of 8 co-writers for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1996 vehicle Eraser. The plot is nothing new either: federal agents chasing a stunningly inventive criminal who believes he's not guilty, and lots of shooting. The "who's the real good-guy" device is also becoming old hat, and though it does add a few mildly surprising twists, there's not enough character development for us to really care.

And just when you think this movie's going to end, it goes on for another half hour. Any police thriller that lasts longer than two hours runs the risk of outstaying its welcome, and this one passes up a few good chances to wrap it up. Jerry Goldsmith's music is exciting and effectively complements the roller-coaster action sequences, but if you're interested in more than cheap thrills and bravado, you may be disappointed. ***

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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