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Junkfood Cinema: ‘U.S. Marshals’ Puts a Gun to Your Head

By  · Published on September 9th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; got a back-up weapon? Yes kids, after last week’s ridiculous invasion of your local multiplex, your favorite film column’s favorite film column is back where it belongs, digging into the vast catalog of older films searching for diamonds in the rough. This week we reach all the way back to 1998.

As per usual, I’ll start off by listing all the reasons to avoid this film like the swamp lands of Kentucky, but I’ll finish up by lovingly wrapping it in one of those emergency blankets that look like aluminum foil. I’ll also recommend a tasty if health challenged treat to warm your cholesterol-laden insides. So what are we waiting for?

This week’s cinematic indulgence is…drum roll…U.S. Marshals!

What makes it bad?

Remember when The Fugitive came out, made a metric shit-ton of money, and practically screamed for a sequel? No? That’s because only the first two parts of that sentence were scientifically accurate. The Fugitive was in fact released August 6th, 1993 and made damn near $200 million domestic, which is coincidentally the exact conversion rate to metric shit-tons. Thing is, there was no reason to do a sequel to The Fugitive. Things worked out pretty well at the end of that movie and unless someone was going to come along and frame Richard Kimble again, there’s not much story left there. Plus that would just be mean-spirited. In any event, some executive with dollar signs in his eyes decided that a sequel was the way to go, and thus was born U.S. Marshals.

As you might expect, the sequel follows Deputy Sam Gerard and his crew of cronies as they try to capture yet another evader of the judicial system. We start with a stellar bust in Chicago, one that sees Tommy Lee Jones wearing a chicken suit. One of the dastardly devils is played by Donald Gibb, who our loyal readers, all 4 of you, will remember as the Mick Foley impersonator from Bloodsport. Sadly Gibb and his brother are being shipped off to a federal pound-you-in-the-ass prison, and Gerard is tapped to accompany them.

They’re on a prison transport plane, making an inexplicable run from Chicago to Memphis and then to New York. It’s not like they’re flying Delta and they have to go through the Delta hub in Memphis. It seems like they could just fly directly to New York instead. Now I have considered the fact that maybe they needed to drop some prisoners off in Memphis, but the thing is this plane is fully loaded with 30–40 prisoners. How are there that many criminals that need to leave Chicago all at the same time? And you’re telling me that not only did Chicago happen to stumble across 30–40 criminals from other places but the only two places they need to go is Memphis and New York? I’m sorry but that makes about as much sense as writing a screenplay about the exploits of the United States Marshals offi….oh.

Luckily for the plot, someone has slipped a zip gun (but not a zip drive or zip line) into the toilet paper holder on the plane. This allows a young Asian fellow to try to shoot Wesley Snipes on his way back to his seat. Sadly, the plane hits a bump and he misses, blowing a hole in the side of the plane and causing it to crash land. This also allows Snipes to escape. From the plane. That was obliterated when it crashed. Because of a single bullet.

Wesley Snipes was supposedly a Marine and then a CIA black ops asset before working for the State department. Despite all that rigorous training, it seems no one ever taught him how to lie. When he’s caught and interrogated by the oldest cop on film ever, he answers far too quickly and swings his head around looking up at the ceiling. It honestly feels like the director told him to be as obvious as humanly possible about the fact that he wasn’t telling the truth. But don’t worry too much for Snipes. Despite his clear inability to fabricate facts he can pick the lock on a pair of handcuffs with a broken piece metal from a pair of reading glasses. So at least that training was good for something. In fact, Gerard’s first clue that Snipes actually worked for the State department was the fact that Downey Jr. could also pick the lock on handcuffs with a broken pair of glasses. Why is this a skill that they teach? It seems way too specific. I can see the room now, sterile and cold with a table filled with handcuffs on one side and broken pairs of glasses on the other. It’s like the optometry apocalypse.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Tommy Lee Jones, but he’s a very specific type of actor with a personality that doesn’t lend itself well to the traditional leading man role. Unfortunately, no one on this production seems to realize this and instead seems content trying to shove him into it like a round peg in a square hole without a shoe horn. He could not be possibly look more uncomfortable at a fancy dinner party with a lovely lady on his arm. It’s like he’s never been on a date, possibly that he’s never even touched a woman. Watching Jones try to smile is like watching a horse try to hopscotch. They even ask him to play the good cop at one point, which requires a modicum of sympathy, politeness and generally being a nice guy. Jones has no idea how to play this and simply comes off as fake and a little creepy. Andy Serkis emotes more in a green suit with ping pong balls taped to it.

Why I love it!

Despite its faults, U.S. Marshals is a pretty decent action film. It’s paced well enough to keep the story moving, doesn’t drag too much and has enough going on to keep the audience interested. They threw money at this film allowing them to actually beat the shit out of a real plane and drop it in a lake. Thus, they get serious credit for a good deal of practical effects work there.

The action scenes are very well done, in particular the plane crash, the fist fight between Jones and Snipes on sand dunes of grain and the scene where Snipes jumps off the top of a building holding a rope, then swings Indiana Jones style on to a nearby elevated subway train. It’s a surprisingly big sequence, obviously a dangerous stunt, and it’s filmed quite believably. Coincidentally U.S. Marshals was directed by longtime editor Stuart Baird. Baird has edited classics like The Omen, Superman and Lethal Weapon as well as modern ass-kicking action films like the Daniel Craig-starring Casino Royale. So it should come as no surprise that the man knows how to craft an action sequence. It also explains why the action in U.S. Marshals is frankly a little better than it probably should have been.

But the real reason to watch this film is Tommy Lee Jones. Yes, I know I mentioned his problems in the above section, but he can hardly be blamed for a screenwriter and director who didn’t understand how to use him. He works best when he’s allowed to be himself. Thankfully, there’s a good deal of that as well and Jones doesn’t disappoint. Frankly, he’s kind of a dick to people which is admittedly his MO in a lot of cases. Some people can make that work better than others. Tommy Lee Jones is one of the best. It’s true that the man seems to have only three facial expressions that range from annoyed to about-to-rip-your-face-off. But what he lacks in warmth he more than makes up for with dialogue.

He can make quick-witted and bitingly satiric dialogue sound just right with a hard edge to it. He’s intensely focused on the hunt and doesn’t give a shit about much else. He gets some great lines like “Knock on the door, Biggs,” “This cat ain’t no statistic. Not yet,” and “Get yourself a Glock, lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol.” Even Joe Pantoliano gets a good one. When Downey Jr asks if Gerard is crazy, Joe responds with “No, but he is a carrier.” A lot of the lines are genuinely funny and keep things fun and light.

This should be in the why it’s bad section, but speaking of that nickel-plated sissy pistol, whoever did the cover art for the DVD clearly hadn’t seen the film, because Jones is shown standing tall holding that very gun in his hand. Sam Gerard wouldn’t have been caught dead holding that gun and yet Jones is looking off in to the distance like a bad-ass while his right hand betrays him by holding a nickel-plated sissy pistol. For shame!

Ultimately U.S. Marshals is an enjoyable if forgettable film. But where else are you going to see Tommy Lee Jones in a giant yellow chicken suit?

Junkfood Pairing: Peeps

In honor of Tommy Lee Jones in the chicken suit, get a nice box of yellow marshmallow Peeps. See how many you can stuff in your mouth before Jones says something snarky. You could also get a few boxes and try a drinking game where you eat a Peep each time Jones stares at someone with contempt. Either way, enjoy!

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