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by: Michael Dequina

Sequels to popular action films are difficult to pull off as they are, and the odds are further stacked against them when (1) the original hero is nowhere to be found, and (2) the original was embraced by critics. This fact--and the failure of last year's tangentially related, critically lambasted sequel to Speed--makes the effectiveness of U.S. Marshals all the more surprising. An ostensible sequel to the Best Picture-nominated The Fugitive, the new film spins off Dr. Richard Kimble's determined pursuer, federal cop Samuel Gerard, in an entertaining adventure that could very well lead to a successful franchise.

Tommy Lee Jones, who won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in The Fugitive, once again plays Gerard, reinhabiting the role with the same infectious gusto and zeal he brought to the original. Once again, Gerard, this time reluctantly teamed with government special agent Royce (Robert Downey Jr.), is chasing after a fugitive, an assassin (Wesley Snipes) known at various points as either Mark Roberts, Mark Warren, or Mark Sheridan. Sheridan (as which I will refer to him) had been imprisoned for the murder of two government agents, and, with the help of his dutiful girlfriend Marie (Irène Jacob), he attempts to elude the ever-focused Gerard and--yes--clear his name.

Director Stuart Baird and screenwriter John Pogue follow The Fugitive's rough outline fairly closely, and a couple of scenes are direct analogues to ones in the original. In a spectacular scene, Sheridan makes his escape after a plane crash, much like the original film's signature train wreck; and one memorably outlandish stunt echoes Kimble's daring leap from a dam. As a whole, though, the new film does not nearly measure up to the original. Snipes, as usual, is charismatic and plays his role well, but his character is not as fascinating and complex as Harrison Ford's Kimble. Sheridan has none of the emotional baggage that shaded Kimble; he simply wants, as he calls it, "righteousness." Kimble, on the other hand, was continually racked with guilt over his wife's death. The emotional angle between Sheridan and Marie is a big zero; Snipes and Jacob muster little chemistry, but that is due in part to the fact that they do not share too many scenes.

On its own terms, though, the diverting U.S. Marshals makes for a promising "pilot" for a potential Gerard series. Jones is obviously energized by the more physical role Gerard plays in this installment, and while his pacing is not as tightly wound as that of Andrew Davis, the original's helmer, Baird crafts some suspenseful and exciting chase scenes without resorting to gratuitous bloodshed. A few climactic plot developments are a bit contrived, but Baird and the able cast glide through them with enough panache that they are not a problem. Slick, well-made, and fun--The Fugitive was all this and much more, but even without that something extra, U.S. Marshals gets the job done.

RATING: *** 1/2 (out of *****)


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