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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/3/98



U.S. Marshals
Special Edition - 1998 (1998) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: C+
Not even in the same league as The Fugitive - Jones and Snipes aren't quite enough to carry it. But some decent action and funny moments keep it reasonably interesting.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/A+
Generally good 16x9 enhanced picture and excellent sound quality. But it's the extras that really shine.

Overall Rating: B+
Not the best actioner available on DVD, but likeable enough. The great extras and terrific price make it well worth a look. Lots of bang for your buck.

Specs and Features

131 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided, Snapper packaging, interactive featurette: Anatomy of a Plane Crash, documentary: Justice Under the Star, audio commentary by Stuart Baird, production notes, cast and crew bios, 2 theatrical trailers, 3 TV spots, animated film-themed menu screens (with background music), scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes star in this sequel to the 1993 action hit The Fugitive. Jones reprises his Oscar-winning role as U.S. Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard, who once again finds himself in wild pursuit of a prisoner that has escaped from justice. The fugitive, one Mark Sheridan (Snipes), is a former stringer for the CIA who has been set up by his superiors for a deal gone bad. He's been in hiding until he can clear his name. Unfortunately, a traffic accident lands him in the hospital, and earns him the unwanted attention of the authorities. He's quickly arrested, but (as in the original film) he manages to escape - this time from the crash of a plane used to transfer prisoners. And thus begins the mayhem. Robert Downey, Jr. also stars as a government agent of uncertain loyalties, who is assigned to assist Gerard in the hunt.

One of the reasons The Fugitive worked so well, was the contrast between Kimble's intense desperation and Gerard's equally intense determination to capture him. And as an audience, we were allowed to emphasize with Kimble (Harrison Ford) right from the start. His wife had been murdered, his life was crumbling around him, and (as if that weren't bad enough) he was being blamed for it all. Add to that the natural sense of likability that Ford brings to almost every role he plays, the caliber of Jones' performance (as Gerard begins to realize there's more to the case than meets the eye), and some tight direction by Andrew Davis, and you had the formula for terrific emotional and dramatic tension.

Unfortunately, there's really no one in U.S. Marshals for Jones to play against. All of the other performances are as restrained as his own. Snipes (as Sheridan) keeps everything close to the vest, so much so that it's not all clear if he's an innocent man. This isn't so much a bad acting choice by Snipes - he's actually quite good for the most part, particularly when the action heats up. It's simply a poorly crafted screenplay. You can't really root for this fugitive. There's even one point in the story where he takes a truck driver and his wife hostage, and holds a knife to the woman's throat - not exactly a likeable guy. It's this lack of an empathetic character, more than anything else, that hamstrings U.S. Marshals. It would almost have been better if Sheridan were truly a bad guy - you'd have at least some kind of strong emotional take on him.

All that said, I can't claim that I didn't at least moderately enjoy U.S. Marshals. Director Stuart Baird has crafted some decent action sequences (although some stretch believability at little). Gerard's rogue's gallery of deputies makes for a pretty amusing bunch - their interplay and wisecracks are funny. And there are just some moments in this film you can't help but like. I can't say I've ever seen a 7 foot tall chicken pull a Glock 40 before, and that scene alone was worth the price of admission when I saw this film in the theater (see chapter 3). U.S. Marshals clearly doesn't rank among the best action-thrillers you ever see... but it does hold its own.

The quality of the 1.85:1 letterboxed video is generally very good. It's also enhanced for 16x9 capable displays, but there's no pan & scan version included. There are only a couple of moments where some artifacting is present, all shots of the plane in flight before the crash (chapter 8 - the shot at 15:59 is a perfect example, in addition to being a pretty sad-looking effect). These are nighttime shots, with lots of diffuse clouds and murky green-blue colors that MPEG 2 encoding seems to have difficulty chewing on. Other than that, the video quality, while not awesome, is well above average. And the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is excellent. The surrounds are well used, particularly during the plane crash and other action sequences, creating a great sense of three dimensional space. The dialogue is clear and natural, and the film's solid (yet restrained) score by Jerry Goldsmith sounds terrific. The score actually reflects the subtleties and determination of Jones' character quite nicely.

As for extras, this special edition DVD's got 'em in spades. You will find a good (if short) documentary on the history of the real U.S. Marshals, entitled Justice Under the Star. There's another featurette, Anatomy of a Plane Crash, that reveals the effects work and planning that went into creating the plane crash sequence, from storyboarding and 2nd unit model work to finding a physical location to stage the aftermath of the event. I'm not sure if I like the need to select each segment of this featurette from a menu, but I suppose that's the downside of adding interactivity. The audio commentary by director Baird is fairly interesting, and there are two theatrical trailers (one for this film, as well as the original Fugitive) and three TV spots. But my favorite feature is really more of a nice touch - animated menu screens that include background music from the film's soundtrack. Not bad for an SRP of $19.98.

Bottom line

Don't expect The Fugitive here - this film doesn't even come close. But U.S. Marshals is at least reasonably solid, with some decent action and a few funny character moments. And with all the extras included on this DVD given the price, it's pretty hard to go wrong.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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