When I heard that there was going to be a movie revealing key events in the past of Burn Notice’s Sam Axe, I was stoked. Bruce Campbell’s Axe is a source of much of the subversive wit and spirit of the hit USA Network series. Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe [Sunday, 9/8C], though mostly enjoyable, is not quite what I was expecting.
In typical Sam Axe style, The Fall of Sam Axe opens with Sam in bed – with an admiral’s wife [not that he knows it until said high-ranking husband arrives home unexpectedly]. The cuckolded admiral decides to get Sam out of his hair by sending him to Colombia on a mission to observe and report on the activities of a local terrorist group.
Sam dutifully reports to the appropriate Colombian military contact and learns, accidentally, that an enterprising officer, Colonel Veracruz [Pedro Pascal] intends to wipe out a volunteer run clinic and claim it was done by the terrorists, thus guaranteeing U.S. funding for his army. Sam, of course, does not take kindly to this and tries to warn the clinic’s personnel and get them to flee.
Unfortunately, the doctor in charge, Ben Delaney [RonReaco Lee] is more than a bit contentious, and Sam can’t even get some back-up from Amanda [Kiele Sanchez], a cynical aid worker who admits that what he says is possible. As for the alleged terrorists, they’re a group of about a dozen farmers – led by an old man. Plus, a food stealing teenager, Beatriz [Ilza Rosario] who actually plays a more important role than Sanchez – and has a really strong screen presence.
The Fall of Sam Axe will be a treat for Bruce Campbell fans, but even most Burn Notice fans will find the first half-hour to be slow and not particularly witty – even with the cameo by director Jeffrey Donovan as the younger, unburnt Michael Westen. In the second half-hour, things pick up and we get to see the wheeler-dealer, making-it-up-as-he-goes Sam Axe that we all know and, for the most part, love. Naturally [this is Sam Axe, after all], things go sideways in spectacular fashion – and Sam manages to come up with plans on the fly. Like a slightly overweight cat, Sam always seems to land on his feet [figuratively speaking…].
The problem is that Campbell has far too many moments that rely on his mugging and not enough where he actually gets material of substance. Luckily, he does get the occasional great Sam Axe line. Donovan has a less than usually good script from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, and definitely keeps it from sinking by smart use of angles, lighting and pacing.
Lee is solid as the doctor with the unexpected gift for… well, you’ve got to see it to believe it, and Sanchez is more than adequate as the one-note character who’s only really functions are to puncture Sam’s ego and to fall for him in spite of her better judgment.
Rosario, though, steals every scene she’s in – and she’s in a lot of scenes with Campbell. It has been announced that The Fall of Sam Axe includes characters and events that will factor into the fifth season of Burn Notice and I hope that Beatriz is one of those characters.
Overall, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe is not up to the high standard set by its progenitor series, but is entertaining despite its flaws.
Final Grade: B-
Photo by David Giesbrecht/Courtesy of USA Network.