Bruce Campbell is essentially playing the Faceman role but in the body and attitude of an over-the-hill Navy Seal called Sam Axe. He is the womanising, heavy drinking, Hawaiian shirt wearing best friend of Michael Weston, the spy played by Jeffrey Donovan, who has the gift of the gab and is occasionally called upon to don a disguise and pretend to be someone else.
I don't want to give some big review or appraisal of the show in general but basically I started watching it for Bruce Campbell, obviously, and as it has gone on over the last 4 seasons, the rest of it has sort of grown on me. The flashy cutting and clips of Miami is a bit too CSI for my liking and it doesn't have the decent soundtrack it needs but apart from that it is good, fun, escapist television.
Now, clearly I wasn't the only person who tuned in purely for the be-chinned one but apparently the producers were a tad clueless about his fanbase because when they first went to Comic-Con two years ago they were actually surprised that their man Campbell was basically like the Elvis of the convention. Long before these Hollywood Superhero pretenders started cynically gracing San Diego with their presence and long after people are finally bored of crap, CGI heavy, men in tights movies, Bruce Campbell will be a fixture at, not just Comic-Con but, conventions everywhere.
Stupid producers for not realising this, you really think we tuned in for the intricate plotting, the relative unknown at the time and the slightly bland, Jeffrey Donovan or maybe for the too bony to be really sexy, highly tanned and slightly annoying Gabrielle Anwar? Now I am sure there were some who enjoyed watching ex-Cagney & Lacey star, the excellent, Sharon Gless as Michael's mother but who are we kidding, this show has legs because of Campbell, or at least that's my story and I am sticking to it.
Anyway it is down to that convention appearance that the producers green-lit an idea that the show creator, Matt Nix, had about a prequel film focussing on Sam Axe's last mission in South America.
It actually makes perfect sense because, as the star of the show, Michael's back story has to be allowed to unravel slowly so you can stretch the concept over more seasons and because Fiona (Anwar's character) and his mother are so closely linked to that storyline, Sam Axe is actually the character you can play with, I mean all we really know about him is he is ex-military, has connections everywhere, loves Mojitos and sugar mommas.
So, enough filling you non-iniated in, go watch Burn Notice and come back, if you haven't already.
The film itself, entitled The Fall of Sam Axe, centers around Commander Axe undergoing a stringent debriefing that borders on an actual court martial because of some questionable antics in Columbia and by framing the action that way it allows the writers to maintain one of the familiar traits of the show, the voice over. So as Sam tells his version of events we get to see them played out in chronological flashback sequences.
Basically, the plot is: he is caught cheating with his superior officers wife, which was unknown to him at the time as he has strict rules about that sort of thing, and as a result of this indiscretion he is sent to Columbia on a simple but annoying observe and report mission. After some twists and turns, Axe ends up siding and helping the so-called "terrorists" that he has been sent to observe, along with some 'doctors-without-borders' types and also finds time to piss off the CIA, which for all in the know, may bite him in the tuckus come season 5. Along the way there is the usual explosions, heroics, device building and the obligatory love interest.
Now all of this was done just fine, the supporting cast were good but bordered on average, the direction (by series star Donovan) was acceptable and the script as peppered with enough zingers that every few minutes you got to have a bit of a chuckle or even a cheer but I have to say, on first viewing, while being very happy that Campbell was in absolutely every scene and while I loved the obvious nods to his previous work, the whole thing was a little underwhelming and wasn't the Campbell does Rambo movie I was hoping for.
The film started off strongly with a lovely bit of comedy from Bruce and indeed, at this point, he can do this sort of stuff with his eyes closed. He has subtly rejuvenated the character 5 years not just by shedding some pounds and dying his hair but by playing him just a little less casually and relaxed than he is in the show but with the same sense of charm and loyalty we all know and love.
As always I can do nothing but sing his praises.
I just always feel after things like this and other TV Movies he has made (Tornado, Screaming Brain, Alien Apocalypse and Terminal Invasion) that more could have been done with him. There didn't seem to be enough Bruce based action or enough witty one liners.
In the TV show format and as simply one member out of a gang, I have grown to accept Campbell in the role of Sam Axe and understand he is not the one who will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in the action dept. and a friend of mine, who watched the film with me the second time, pointed out that what the prequel does is establish the character he is in the show, giving us reasons why a washed up old Navy Seal would even bother helping Michael out on his charity missions week in week out. My friend rationalised it saying that if Sam started to pull Michael style action moves it would've been out of character because what he is good at is talking or faking his way out of a tough situation and so that is what we get.
Watching the film or thinking about it with this in mind certainly does relax that nagging feeling, make it a much better watch and make a lot more sense but I am still not sure then why, as a writer, you would choose this setting and this plot. Why put so many action sequences in it then? Why make every other character around Sam Axe fairly inept at action? I would assume that if doing a film of this kind where he is forced to be a heroic leader, as the character is a trained Navy Seal who is actually forced to finish his career early and so isn't actually near retirement or anything, why not mix up the 'talking or improvising his way out of jams' schtick a little with just a bit, a bit of crowd pleasing fisticuffs.
I didn't expect him to be nimbly pouncing out of the bushes dispatching villains expertly with a hunting knife or mixed martial-arting them to death Bourne style but a little bit of braun wouldn't have gone a miss, is all I'm saying.
I guess I am always measuring these different projects against the likes of The Evil Dead trilogy or Bubba Ho-Tep which I know is wrong because they are different beasts with different budgets and so let's put this alongside his other forays into the genre of made-for-TV movie. Well it was better than Tornado, pretty much on a par with Screaming Brain and Alien Apocalypse and I actually thought Terminal Invasion was better.
Overall though I am, of course, incredibly happy that they made it at all, it had enough engaging, good and funny moments to completely justify its existence, the obvious hard work that had gone into it and anything to bridge the long and annoying gap between seasons is welcome.
7 out of 10 ice cold beers and a sweet mojito.
Points from The Wife - 7 out of 10