Ethics & Public Policy Center

U.S. Marshals

Published in EPPC Online on March 1, 1998



Poor Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard! The only fugitives he ever gets to chase are Houdini-like in their ability to wriggle out of certain capture and who thus put him through a hell of frustration over and over (and over and over) again. . .and then they turn out to be innocent! Oops! Hope I didn’t give too much away about U.S. Marshals, which is so faithful a sequel to The Fugitive that it even includes another spectacular crash involving public transport. There it was a train, here it is a Boeing 727. But once again I give my readers credit for a certain perspicacity. You don’t have to be particularly acute to see that the racial subtext in this film — in which Wesley Snipes takes the Harrison Ford role of the allegedly criminal (but of course actually innocent) mastermind dueling with Tommy Lee Jones’s Marshal Gerard — requires that Snipes be a good guy who has been “set up” to look like a ruthless killer by some bent white bureaucrats.

Wesley Snipes would in any case be too big a star to be playing the heavy, even if it were not the rule that the black guy cannot be the bad guy — unless there is an even bigger black star to be the hero. In postmodern Hollywood nobody is ashamed of the easily readable logic of the star system, or of the fact that it makes real suspense almost impossible to generate. Like most action thrillers these days, U.S. Marshals just keeps doing the same things again and again. The plot consists of a near capture and an improbable escape — and then another near capture and an improbable escape. Repeat ad nauseam — which, in this case, means over two hours’ worth! And people tell me they go to the movies to be entertained?

The only entertaining thing here is occasional bits of snappy dialogue, as when Robert Downey Jr asks one of Gerard’s colleagues, “Is he crazy?” and the colleague answers, “No, but he’s a carrier.” But that just means, presumably, that they got a comedy writer in to polish up the one liners. The characters offer nothing to interest us except, as we might expect from a sequel, the pleasure of seeing Mr Jones’s energetic impersonation of a real take-charge tough guy (“We can sleep next month,” he says, driving his “kids” and himself to the point of exhaustion) simply repeated. Yep, we were right. That was him. We can tell because he says the line — “We got a fugitive!” Meanwhile, Mr. Downey Jr is, as always, playing himself and only keeping us guessing as to whether, this time, he is the roguishly charming bad-guy or the roguishly charming good-guy.

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