Burn Notice: Fall of Sam Axe

(2011) ** 1/2 Unrated
90 min. USA. Director: Jeffrey Donovan. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan.

/content/films/4146/1.jpgWho doesn't love Bruce Campbell? The cult-favorite actor has of late enjoyed a popular outlet for his wiseacre skills on USA's Burn Notice, playing Sam Axe, an ex-Navy SEAL who aids ex-spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). The breakout supporting character braks out into his own TV-movie in Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe. As in 2005's The Man with the Screaming Brain and 2007's My Name Is Bruce, Campbell's leading performance compensates for sketchy scripts and humble budgets. And Burn Notice fans have a couple of added inducements to rub their hands with glee: series star Donovan directs (and puts in a cameo), and the movie fills in the key backstory to Sam's character by depicting what forced him into early military retirement in Miami.

That said, fans may wish to moderate their expectations. What amounts to a reasonably fun double-episode of Burn Notice has something of a tossed-off quality, especially in its script by Burn Notice creator Matt Nix. The Latin American "fiasco" that drummed Sam out of service (circa 2005) turns out to involve an opportunistic School of the Americas grad (Pedro Pascal's Comandante Veracruz), a "Doctors for All" clinic in peril, and a ragtag band of rebels (sigh) that Sam exasperatingly terms "the greatest part-time farmer army ever." The movie surrounds Campbell with bland characters and blander actors, for the most part. Clinician Amanda Maples (Kiele Sanchez) is good for some backtalk and flirtation, while young rebel Beatriz (Ilza Rosario) turns out to be equal parts troublemaker and hero in the making. Sam finds himself stuck amidst the rebels he's been ordered to investigate even as he attempts to protect the clinic's doctors and patients from destruction. being nicknamed "The Chin" is but one of the many annoyances that keep Sam right where we want him: irritable and sarcastic.

Donovan maximizes his budget with a handful of reasonably exciting firefight, explosion, and vehicular mayhem sequences, but the real show here is in the too-rare opportunities for humor. Nix wedges in a chainsaw-flinging gag as a tribute to Campbell's Evil Dead notoriety, and there's an amusing bit involving Sam being issued sky-blue fatigues by an officer who'd perhaps prefer Sam never returns (for a reason that's the oldest cliché in the book). It's a testament to the character of Sam Axe and the writer and actor who created him that The Fall of Sam Axe winds up being something of a disappointment. Sam and Bruce deserve a story that's more creative and more gonzo.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 7/26/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

/content/films/4146/2.jpgBurn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe comes to Blu-ray with a tight, clean high-definition transfer culled from a digitally photographed hi-def source. This transfer maximizes the picture quality with impeccable contrast and black level, attractive and presumably accurate color representation, and impressive detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix ably handles the film's dialogue, music, and occasionally explosive special effects.

The disc includes an audio commentary by Bruce Campbell, director Jeffrey Donovan, and producer/Burn Notice creator Matt Nix that's great fun: perhaps more entertaining than informative, but who's complaining?

Mockumentary featurette "The Fall of Jeffrey Donovan" (11:26, HD) proposes that the movie's director has lost it and "gone native" on the set.

Also here are brief "Deleted Scenes" (1:20, SD) and my favorite extra, "Burn Notice at Comic-Con 2010" (1080i, 26:02), a panel featuring actor Chris Vance, actor-director Tim Matheson, writer-producer Alfredo Barrios, Nix and Campbell.

Burn Notice fans are in for a treat with this Blu-ray special edition; here's hoping the series itself returns to Blu.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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