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Review #2461: Burn Notice: “The Fall of Sam Axe”

Posted on the 18 April 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Written by Matt Nix
Directed by Jeffrey Donovan

I’m going to assume that this TV-movie was designed to have a lot more meaning to long-time “Burn Notice” fans than someone (like me) who is relatively new to the series. I’ve only seen the fourth season, so by that virtue, I’m familiar enough with Sam to know his personality, but not entirely up on his past history. For all I know, this was an adventure and situation that was referenced many times in the past, and only now revealed in full.

Review #2461: Burn Notice: “The Fall of Sam Axe”

My immediate impression is that this some of the best work I’ve seen out of Bruce Campbell in a long time. So much of his non-“Burn Notice” film work is self-referential to the point of absurdity, and quite frankly, is barely worth the time spent watching it. In this case, he’s clearly enjoying the chance to do something with more substance, and he does everything possible to sell it. And Jeffrey Donovan does a bang-up job in the director’s chair. There’s no lack of effort on either side of the camera.

But there’s a maxim that I’ve held for many years now: poor acting or direction can undermine the strengths of a great script, but the best performance and direction in the world can’t overcome weaknesses in the writing. We’ve seen this played out with countless blockbusters over the years, and unfortunately, it applies in this case as well.

It just feels overly derivative, and I’m not entirely convinced that the writers meant it to be seen in that light. Anyone who has seen the most recent “Rambo” film can see the similarities, and I would even go so far as to point to “24: Redemption”. It’s only the framing story that changes. Otherwise, it’s so familiar that the plot twists were a bit too predictable. (And honestly? Kiele Sanchez is very attractive, but her outfit was practically identical to what she wore as Nikki on “Lost”!)

As I already mentioned, I get the feeling that this may have been intentional; Sam was the narrator, we know he’s somewhat unreliable in that regard, and he has a sarcastic streak a mile long. So if events are being told (and therefore seen) from his perspective, that could explain why it seems so derivative. It could be intended to be seen in a less serious light. Yet the tone of the story doesn’t always match that interpretation, and it’s not simply a matter of playing sly material a little too straight from the director’s chair.

Which is not to say that this was a terrible TV-movie. It was entertaining, reminded the audience that Bruce Campbell is still capable of displaying some solid acting chops (not a shock to “Burn Notice” fans), and took the overall canvas of the series into new territory. And as I said, for longtime fans of the series, this could have answered some long-standing questions that might have made it more amenable as a result. But from my perspective, it didn’t quite reach the heights I suspect it was attempting to reach.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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