Bruce Campbell is one of the main reasons people tune-in to Burn Notice every week, and with just cause. The actor's portrayal of Sam Axe, the beer swilling, womanizing ex-Navy Seal with a heart of gold is always fun to watch and has been a pleasant addition to Campbell's already iconic status as a B-movie action star.
That's why Burn Notice fans (like me) were so excited when Matt Nix announced the development of Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, a special prequel TV movie focusing on Sam's last mission as a military officer. As Bruce Campbell said himself in our recent interview, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe would offer Burn Notice fans something that was slightly different than usual, but still "familiar and fun."
Of course, there's such a thing as too familiar. In many respects, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe plays like a 90-minute episode of Burn Notice, only with Bruce Campbell's wry narration instead of Jeffrey Donovan's. While the formula makes for a likable enough TV movie, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Still, Bruce Campbell does get to play with a chainsaw again, and that's always fun.
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe opens on Sam in his dress whites facing a formal investigation into a botched anti-terrorist operation in the Colombian jungle. Set in 2005, the movie presents us with a Sam that is somewhat different than usual (in that he answers "Yes sir" and "No sir"). For the most part though, it's the same old Sam. Even when speaking with a commanding officer, Sam makes wisecracks, eyes the pretty stenographer, and asks for a cold beer. I somehow doubt a real military hearing would be quite so colorful, but that's the beauty of Burn Notice.
Through a series of flashbacks, Sam explains what went wrong on his last mission. How Sam ended up on the mission in the first place is another story altogether, but one that is perfectly in keeping with the character. Anyway, without spoiling too much of the story, here's the basic plot set up. Sam goes to Colombia for a joint operation with a Colombian military outfit to observe and report on a possible terrorist organization. While there, Sam meets a doctor and a foreign aid worker (the latter played by Lost's Kiele Sanchez) who are working at a clinic that might be the target of an attack.
Of course, after a bit of snooping around, Sam learns that there is more to the Colombian soldiers than he was led to believe, and the terrorist organization is anything but dangerous. Honoring Sam's inherent nobility, which is one of the things that makes the character more than just a B-movie stereotype, the film chronicles Sam's decision to defy military order to protect those in need. Along the way, some people die, lots of stuff blows up, and Sam hits on Kiele Sanchez.
As in every episode of Burn Notice, the clinic workers (whom we could easily call "The Clients") are indifferent to Sam's help until they have no choice in the matter. Also, like in regular Burn Notice episodes, The Fall of Sam Axe features lots of improvised escapes and fun build-a-bomb-out-of-nothing scenes. Despite the sameness of the action, however, there are numerous redeeming moments in the film.
For one thing, Matt Nix has done a great job - giving Sam plenty of zingers throughout the movie. For those of us only accustomed to hearing Sam five or six times an episode, it's nice to see that the character is still consistently funny over the course of a 90-minute film. Likewise, it's great to see Bruce Campbell back in action as a lead. The actor's status as a B-movie idol is something that I suspect he both enjoys and loathes. Still, it's built him a terrifically loyal fanbase, and I suspect that they will be happy with what they see in The Fall of Sam Axe.
Truthfully, I wasn't blown away by Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, but I did enjoy the movie for what it was worth. (I should also note that I watched and reviewed a rough cut of the film, which likely detracted from the film's overall quality. ) Should Matt Nix and the team decide to pursue any additional Burn Notice prequel movies, I suggest they think a little bit more outside of the box, so as to bring something new to the characters. All in all though, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe is a serviceable addition to the franchise, and a great reminder of why we all love Bruce Campbell.
Burn Notice season 5 begins summer 2011 on USA