USA’s Burn Notice is a popular series that finished its fourth season this past December. While fans wait for season five, a TV movie prequel premiered last night. Called Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, it follows Sam (Bruce Campbell) on his last mission for the armed forces, before he winds up in Miami for the series. The special is directed by Jeffrey Donovan, who stars in the regular show, and puts in a cameo in the movie.
Campbell is easily believable as a slightly younger Sam, the only noticable differences being a trim uniform and the grey dyed out of his hair. Perhaps because Sam engages in a bit more action than during a typical episode of Burn Notice, there is also an extra liveliness. As such, the team behind this new production does a superb job of making it feel like a few years ago.
The beginning is awkward, as Sam gets lost several times on the way to meet his commanding officers. While Sam is often the comic relief on Burn Notice, it does not make sense for him to appear bumbling while in uniform. He has never been this goofy. The whole sequence comes off as silly and unrealistic. As such, the movie gets off to a bad start.
Things pick up as Sam begins to relay the story of a recent mission to two superiors. Sam inadvertently sleeps with an admiral’s wife, and earns himself a transfer to an observe and report mission in Columbia. Sam tries to do as his orders command, but after only a brief stint in the jungle, he realizes that the people he is stationed with are not on the up and up. As such, Sam must betray his instructions to save a clinic, the people it treats, and the nearby “terrorists” he is supposed to be against.
The “terrorists” are actually farmers, and only one has any real military experience. In order to get to do whatever they want, the leader of the squadron Sam is ordered to, Veracruz (Pedro Pascal, The Good Wife), plans on blowing up a clinic and blaming it on the farmers. Sam fakes his own kidnapping and evacuates the people Veracruz intends to hurt.
Soon after Sam flees, Veracruz figures out what is actually going on, and sets his men after Sam and the farmers. Aided by local kid, Beatriz (Ilza Rosario), who doesn’t really look like a kid, the farmers flee towards a secret CIA base that Sam knows about. It’s a lot like the 24 TV movie, Redemption, where a well known hero is self-sacrificial and on the run with a group who is not really ready to defend themselves. Because of this, the special does not feel new or fresh.
This is also not in character for the Sam presented at the beginning of Burn Notice, who informed on Michael to the feds. Perhaps that Sam is a bit defeated because of the events explained by this movie, and so he isn’t as courageous as he is shown to be later on. That’s the easiest explanation, as the Sam in this special is more like the Sam shown in the fourth season of Burn Notice, well after he has committed to a team that is always helping people.
Sam and the others make it to the base, but they are badly outnumbered. Sam must stall by talking, something he has been shown time and again to be very good at. He does so long enough for help to arrive, but his previous actions are enough to earn him the threat of court martial. Only his resourcefulness saves him, having arranged for Beatriz to have blackmail material that Sam uses to negotiate himself an honorable discharge.
The story started out slow and not very well written, but by the end, Sam has morphed into a more familiar figure, as he has come to be known to fans. This special is far from fantastic, but it does give a little bit of unknown back story on a popular character, and keeps the tone (and often, the music) of the series, so fans will probably enjoy it.
The capable, but not stellar, supporting cast includes RonReaco Lee (The Good Guys) as the clinic doctor, and Kiele Sanchez (Lost, The Glades) as the doctor’s assistant, Amanda. Sam has a brief romantic notion to be with Amanda, but a couple of kisses is all the further the special takes it. While it is unlikely Sam would have a permanent love interest in such a brief movie, his interaction with Amanda is so tame that it proves unneeded and feels out of place with the rest of the show.
Burn Notice, back to its present day story line, will return to USA this summer.