BURN NOTICE: THE FALL OF SAM AXE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Campbell, Kiele Sanchez, RonReaco Lee, Chandra West
Director: Jeffrey Donovan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Release Date: July 26, 2011
“I believe this form of extortion is known as graymail. It's much nicer than blackmail.”
Burn Notice has become a series to look forward to every summer on USA, which has established itself as one of the top basic cable networks as far as original programming goes. It's a slick, ultra-stylized spy thriller adventure series that's also hip and funny. The elements are mixed so well, and the balance is flat out perfect.
One of the supporting actors of the show just happens to be the end all, be all of cinematic cult icons; the legendary Bruce Campbell. Although he's not the lead of the show, his character is nevertheless a scene-stealer, with Campbell doing what he does best...cracking wise and walking that thin line between slime and charm. And of course, we can't ignore the nice little nod to his iconic role in the Evil Dead movies that exists through the very name of his character here; Sam Axe.
So with the series being the hit that it is, and given Campbell's cult status and the small time space his character is able to occupy per episode, it only seems appropriate to give the character his own spin-off movie. And so we have Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, a prequel to the series that reveals how this character got to where he is on the show. While it doesn't supply anything groundbreaking as far as the arc of the series goes, fans of the show and Campbell alike will no doubt be satisfied, just as long as they aren't demanding much.
When the show first began, all we knew about Sam is that he was at one point a Navy Seal before finding himself in sunny Miami, working alongside best friend and “burned” spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, serving as director here). He was presented at first as a somewhat sketchy individual, who's trust came into question at times since he happened to be well-connected in the spy game. But by the first season's end, we knew for sure that Sam was indeed one of the good guys.
It was never revealed how or why Sam ditched his Naval duties, which is precisely what this movie details. It opens with Sam being brought to hearing room where he is forced to disclose information regarding a military disaster somewhere in South America. We see the meat of the story unfold in flashback as Sam reveals how he was involved in this mess.
As punishment for being caught in bed with the admiral's wife (classic Sam), our hero is sent to Columbia. His orders are to assist and observe in the ongoing fight against a terrorist organization known as The Flaming Sword. There's no telling how long this will take, but Sam is ordered to remain there until it is resolved.
Once he's there, the military squad he's saddled with receives word that Flaming Sword plans to attack a hospital. They get to the hospital, but are not that much welcomed by the doctors and aid workers. They feel their presence will only bring more problems.
Eventually, Sam overhears a plot being orchestrated by the military team's leader, Comandante Veracruz (Pedro Pascal), He plans to destroy the hospital himself and blame the incident on Flaming Sword as a way of receiving more American foreign aid. With no other option in sight, Sam races back to the hospital to warn everyone and thwart the corrupt military's plan.
There's plenty of action on hand, and Campbell's effortless charm and humorous persona is in full swing from beginning to end. But I'm not so sure this movie was entirely necessary, since it doesn't really add all that much to what's been established in the series. Granted, I've only seen the first two seasons, but I still can't imagine the events in this movie having much of an impact.
Another setback here is that Burn Notice simply isn't Burn Notice without Michael Westen. Now that maybe an unfair criticism since Sam Axe is supposed to be the focus here and, as I mentioned earlier, Jeffrey Donovan is in the director's chair for this, but the byplay between Sam and Michael is one of the series great strengths. Michael does appear briefly early in the movie, which only makes us want him around that much more.
But like I said, as long as you're not demanding much and are in need of a Bruce Campbell fix, and I know a lot of you out there are, you'll find Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe to be a breezy enjoyment. Prequels of any sort, be it for a feature film or TV series, are almost always difficult to pull off. While I wouldn't call this a complete success, it could've ended up much more pointless.
I've never experienced Burn Notice in HD (Season Two is the only set available in the format), but found it to be extremely well handled, video-wise, on standard DVD. This presentation is very much equal to that, The South American setting does provide a strong presentation of color and detail. The greens definitely appear outstanding. For a made for TV movie, this did come with a nice looking production, which shows off incredibly well in the 1080p.
The DTS HD mix serves this action fueled flick quite well. Again, it's a made for TV production, so while it may not offer the type of bang like, say, a Michael Bay movie, the sound mix does deliver what it can. Explosions and gun battles, which occupy a good chunk of the movie's second half, sound fantastic and you do feel somewhat engulfed in the mayhem. Dialogue delivery is top notch too.
This is a rare case of quality over quantity as far as the extras are concerned. There's a fun commentary track with Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan and show creator Matt Nix, as well as a very featurette titled “The Fall of Jeffrey Donovan”, which shows how the transition from lead actor to director made Donovan go bonkers...in kidding fashion, of course. There's also footage from the show's Comic Con panel from 2010, and a couple minutes worth of Deleted Scenes.
While it won't exactly have fans appreciating Burn Notice anymore than they already are, The Fall of Sam Axe will indeed satisfy those who have been thirsting for more of the beloved sidekick character. And Bruce Campbell fans are likely to get some joy out of it as well. Harmless, if not memorable.