Fox // 2011 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 18th, 2011
Every man has a past. His just has more explosions.
I'm a fan of both Bruce Campbell and of Burn Notice, the USA on which Campbell plays an entertaining supporting role. That means I should be exactly the audience for the 2011 made-for-TV Burn Notice "prequel" movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe. It's too bad, then, that I didn't like the movie (which, incidentally, is directed by Burn Notice star Jeffrey Donovan) more.
After sleeping with a superior officer's wife, Sam Axe (Campbell) is assigned to South America to track down a terrorist organization known as Espada Ardiente. When he learns that the Columbian military is planning to destroy a clinic and take over the region, Sam does his best to convince two doctors (RonReaco Lee, Sister, Sister, and Kiele Sanchez of A Perfect Getaway [also of my junior high school]) to join up with him and get everyone in the clinic to safety. Eventually, they relent and believe him -- just in time to enter combat with the military. They hook up with a local girl, Beatriz (Ilza Rosario), who connects them with the so-called "terrorist" group -- which turns out to be a group of peaceful goat herders. It's up to Sam and his rag-tag band of untrained rebels to fight back against the military and save their country -- as well as their own lives.
Part of the problem is that The Fall of Sam Axe is telling a story that's not worth telling. Sam Axe is a great character on Burn Notice, but I don't really need a prequel to learn his back story (though the movie does show us how he came to adopt the alter ego of Chuck Finley). If the producers of Burn Notice wanted Sam to have his own spin-off adventure, they should have just done that; filling in the gaps of how he got blacklisted from the CIA isn't necessary information for his character, and the events of how that happened aren't all that compelling. Plus, the movie lacks the fun, invention and energy of the best episodes of Burn Notice -- there's no cool spy stuff and the loss of the Miami settings is more of a hit than I anticipated (it's been replaced by some generic jungle locations). Still, it's not without action and a lot of humor, and it gives us 90 uninterrupted minutes of Bruce Campbell being cocky and square-jawed and heroic. The narrative is lacking and Donovan's direction feels small sometimes (especially because he's trying to fake scope, and that's a hard thing to do), but the movie has enough going for it that diehard Bruce Campbell junkies and fans of Burn Notice should be able to find something to like.
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray -- better, in fact, than the lone season of the series released on the format (for some reason, only Season Two of the show is out on Blu-ray, and the transfer was swarming with noise and grain). Colors are bright and vibrant, detail is good and digital artifacting is almost nonexistent. The only thing that brings down the visuals of the film is Donovan's flat direction; too often, The Fall of Sam Axe looks and feels like the made-for-TV movie that it is. Still, the Blu-ray can't be faulted for that. The 5.1 lossless audio track is a little busier than it needs to be; while the explosions and gunfire are appropriately aggressive, it's sometimes at the expense of dialogue or nuanced separation in the channels. Still, the complaints are fairly minor and shouldn't detract from anyone's enjoyment of the movie.
I'd almost advise picking the disc up if only for the commentary track that's been included, which features Campbell, director (and co-star in a cameo that tries to tie the movie into the series) Donovan and Burn Notice creator Matt Nix. All three are very fast and funny, and while the track is plenty informative, it's much more entertaining to listen to them goof on each other and tease one another about their respective shortcomings. It's also fun to hear Donovan, clearly a fan of Bruce Campbell from way back, admit to how many Evil Dead and Army of Darkness references he wanted to work into the movie, and how Campbell shot them down for fear of appearing too vain. Their fun and enthusiasm is infectious, and I have to admit I had a better time listening to the commentary than watching The Fall of Sam Axe. Also included is a jokey making-of featurette, "The Fall of Jeffrey Donovan," which charts his mental deterioration as he directs the movie. A few deleted scenes and an enjoyable panel discussion from last year's Comic-Con round out the bonus features.
I can't really recommend Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe that highly, even though I had an OK time with it. It's done well enough and Bruce Campbell is always great, but anyone looking for a Burn Notice fix is better off just watching some Burn Notice. I liked the movie just fine, but I like the show better.
Bruce Campbell fans might get a kick out of it; all others can take a pass.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site