With the original storyline all tied up the question on the studio's mind was “how do we continue?”. I'm sure they didn't care HOW, so long as it DID. And with the original Fugitive creator Roy Huggins in the writer's chair – alongside John Pogue (The Skulls, Ghost Ship) – the credibility factor was established from the outset. Harrison Ford's Richard Kimble character was no longer a viable avenue and so the natural progression was to focus on Sam Gerrard... and that makes sense. Being a US Marshal who's the best-of-the-best the options were limitless. Given that his character made a living chasing bad guys, the writers had the freedom to go in any direction they saw fit... it's just unfortunate that they chose the safer route by basically rehashing the entire original film.
US MARSHALS is a cracking thriller and while it may have tanked at the box office, and been a slightly lesser film than its predecessor, it holds up well as a stand-alone movie and doesn't deserve the ridicule that's endured for almost 20-years (holy shit... 20-years. I'm getting old).
Sam Gerrard finds himself on a prisoner-transport plane that crash lands after one of the prisoners attempts to kill a fellow inmate. All men are accounted for, minus one (sound familiar?), and so begins another extensive man hunt. Tommy Lee Jones breaks into his steely Award-winning persona and takes command of the situation with a massive dose of de ja-vu. A perimeter is set as Gerrard and his team head out into the bayous of Southern Illinois in search of the new fugitive, Mark Roberts (Wesley Snipes). Joining the crew is an agent from the Diplomatic Security Service (Robert Downey Jr) who steps off with the wrong foot and is at odds with Gerrard's methods.
Once you accept that US MARSHALS is a carbon-copy of THE FUGITIVE and accept it for what it's worth then you will enjoy the film a lot more than audiences did back in 1998. Jone's steps back into Gerrard's shoes with ease and is given the entire film to flex his muscles. With his character now the central protagonist the story takes on a new dimension with a greater focus on the character and a stronger emphasis on the action. The storyline is a lot more complex (perhaps for it's own good) and the fugitive’s backstory is well distanced from Kimble's story in the original. At 133-minutes the duration is the same (slightly too long in this case) and the flow of the narrative is fluid. Watching Jone's take charge is a wonderful thing and the tragedy – in my mind – is that this never became a bigger franchise.
The possibility for an ongoing franchise was huge, and the character of Gerrard (and his team) deserved a few more adventures. Tommy Lee Jones went on to star in William Friedkin's RAMBO-esque thriller THE HUNTED and took on a role that was practically identical to Gerrard, proving that there was life in the old boy yet.... and again in THE MISSING. At 70-years of age there isn't a hope in hell that he'll ever take on the role again, and so obsessive film nerds like me will just have to dream of what could have been (imagine if he'd gone after a serial killer... that would have been unreal).
When it comes to underrated and undervalued sequels, US MARSHALS is one of them. It stands alone as an action-packed thriller and also serves as a perfectly adequate character progression. It doesn't take anything away from THE FUGITIVE, and it successfully creates an avenue for further stories... that will sadly never happen.