From Fugitive to Formula
Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Remember that bit when Bill Murray finally — after repeating his day umpteen times — gets Andie MacDowell to warm up to him, and they have a great evening that ends with them making a snowman and flirting and falling down together in the snow? Remember the chemistry that was there? And remember how, on the next repetition of the day, they have that date again, but it doesn’t go so well, and Bill Murray tries to force that flirty spontaneity, but she just keeps getting creeped out by how weirdly he’s acting?
That’s what’s wrong with U.S. Marshals (starring Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr.). The writer and the director sat down and watched The Fugitive a million times and took notes: this is what’s cool about The Fugitive, and this, and this, and this. Whaddaya know, they then said to themselves, we got us a recipe for a blockbuster.
We’ll, just like with poor Bill Murray’s date the second time around, the spontaneity just isn’t there. The chemistry is all wrong. The banter is forced. It’s kinda painful.
In The Fugitive, the audience could empathize with Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble — he was an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, and you could practically see the gears turning in his head as he struggled to find a way out of each predicament. Certainly, you felt his fear and felt afraid for him. But Wesley Snipes’s Mark Sheridan here is a CIA operative, an ex-marine — a tough guy, and not a particularly nice one. He’s in his regular environment, and he knows exactly what to do. There’s no emotional investment to be made in him.
But the thing that really left a sour taste in my mouth was a betrayal by the moviemakers of deputy U.S. marshal Sam Gerard (Jones). The Fugitive‘s Gerard turned out not only to be a good guy but also a Good Guy. In moviedom’s panoply of scheming, manipulative, dirty cops (and other law-enforcement types) who are as bad or worse than the criminals they’re after, Gerard was by-the-book yet most definitely passionate about his work. He was someone you could trust not to abuse his considerable authority.
You guessed it. The writer of U.S. Marshals has Gerard abuse his authority in a way that was completely unnecessary. The point made by this uncharacteristic behavior — that Gerard is finally and utterly pissed off — could easily have been made in other ways that would portray Gerard less like the typical movie antihero and more like the man of integrity he was in The Fugitive.
I saw The Fugitive five times in 1993, the summer it was released — it’s one of the finest action movies ever made, no question. And even back then, there was speculation of a sequel featuring the characters of the U.S. marshals — or maybe there was just a wellspring of desire to see such a sequel.
Maybe the next one — oh, I see it coming — will be better.