TV Review: Average Action in USA’s ‘Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe’

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CHICAGO – My love affair with USA’s “Burn Notice” has been rocky at best. During the second season, it felt like a show that could really blossom into one of the best on cable, but it kind of plateaued a bit in the third season and has been a solid-if-unspectacular program since, never quite living up to its potential while still being entertaining. The same could be said about the prequel movie, “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe,” airing on USA tomorrow night, April 17th, 2011. TV Rating: 3.0/5.0
TV Rating: 3.0/5.0

Having been a longtime fan of the “Evil Dead” fans and enough of a Bruce Campbell admirer to have not only seen “Man with the Screaming Brain” but have read his autobiography (“If Chins Could Kill”), I love that “Burn Notice” has brought him to a different, wider audience and was thrilled at the idea of a Campbell movie appearing somewhere other than SyFy. Being a fan of Campbell and of “Burn Notice,” I feel qualified to say that “The Fall of Sam Axe” is just okay. It has moments but wears out its welcome at feature-length running time and will ultimately be an afterthought when fans write the history of their favorite show.

Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Photo credit: USA

Ever wonder how Sam ended up in Miami saving Michael’s ass time after time? “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” takes place in February 2005 as Lieutenant Commander Sam Axe (Campbell) gets a horrible assignment in Colombia after sleeping with a superior’s wife. He thinks he’s just going down there to advise a local military platoon but he soon learns he’s about to be betrayed, set-up, and killed. He not only has to turn to the group he was sent to investigate but fight against his own fellow Americans on the scene. Naturally, when he comes back, the government isn’t too happy. The entirety of “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” is framed around a military hearing for its title character.

Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Photo credit: USA

Jeffrey Donovan (lead character Michael on “Burn Notice”) appears only briefly and directs the two-hour episode. You also shouldn’t expect to see the great Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and, honestly, I was surprised at how much I missed both Donovan and Anwar in the film. The chemistry they have developed with Campbell is arguably the hit program’s biggest strength. I love Bruce but “Burn Notice” is not a one-man show and the replacements for his co-stars in this prequel (RonReaco Lee of “The Good Guys,” Kiele Sanchez of “Lost,” John Diehl of “Miami Vice,” and Chandra West of “The Gates”) don’t have that same magic TV chemistry as his regular co-stars.

Donovan does a decent job directing and show creator Matt Nix wrote the script so it occasionally finds that same comic/action rhythm (I particularly enjoyed a bit where Sam is trying to build an explosive device and advises “We’re building a bomb, so you do the opposite of what the warning label says.” The piece gets pretty heavy on action in the final act and Donovan proves adept at handling those scenes, including some complex shoot-outs and explosions.

Ultimately, the biggest and arguably sole problem (besides the downgrade in supporting cast) with “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” comes down to running time. Imagine a strong episode of “Burn Notice” stretched to twice its length. It would get pretty thin and that’s exactly what happens to “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.” It starts to drag right around the time a normal episode would end.

I can rarely remember a time when an extended episode of one my favorite programs actually worked. For example, hour-long episodes of “The Office” are never quite as funny (even the “Supersized” ones seem to be off a beat). I think the writers for these programs have honed their craft in a specific way. Matt Nix knows how to write solid “Burn Notice” episodes that run 44 minutes plus commercials. It doesn’t take the exact same skill set to write for double the running time just as a manager would run a risk to ask a closer on a baseball team to pitch two innings instead of the one he has mastered. He might get through it, but it would be a little rocky and not quite as professional. Think of “Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” the same way. It’s not bad, but not particularly the best outing for anyone involved.

“Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” stars Bruce Campbell, Kiele Sanchez, RonReaco Lee, John Diehl, Chandra West, and Jeffrey Donovan. It was written by Matt Nix and directed by Jeffrey Donovan. It airs on USA at 8pm CST on Sunday, April 17th, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

GeordieKin's picture

You couldn't be more right!

I totally agree with you on this one. While it is nice to know the story of “Sam” the show needed a bit more. I feel the hype that was done to promote it didn’t match the event, and I was left wanting more.

Anonymous's picture

True, but....

I really liked the prequel. Everything you stated is true. I thought it was a bit drawn out and a little slower than a normal Burn Notice episode and I missed Michael (Fi a bit less). It became abundantly clear to me that the quirky character of Sam Axe has to play against someone a bit straighter in order to have the same feel as we get in the regular Burn Notice episodes—-but I still really enjoyed the movie prequel. Maybe its because I wanted to know more about Sam’s history or maybe because I miss original Burn Notice adventures while they are on hiatus. As a fan of the show, I just liked having the show back on for one evening in one way or another.

I want to add one note. As I said, Sam needs a straight man/woman to play off of for the character to work properly. I have to admit by the end of the prequel I started to like a few of the charters and was thinking about how they might be able to pop up on Burn Notice now and again. Sam can use an on again off again fiesty love interest closer to his age in Amanda (Kiele Sanchez) and Beatriz (Ilza Rosario Ponko)really lit up the screen with her role—-especially in the final scene.

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