Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe

How often these days do you get to see the Chin himself, Bruce Campbell, headlining a movie with a halfway decent budget? Not that often, so I’d advise all you primitive screwheads to check out Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe even if you’ve never seen an episode of the USA spy series Burn Notice.

You don’t need to have seen any episodes anyway. This is a stand-alone film focusing on, yep, Sam Axe (Campbell), the ex-Navy SEAL buddy of Burn Notice hero Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, who sits in the director’s chair here and puts in a brief appearance near the beginning). We find out why Sam left the military and ended up in Miami; we also discover, in a good little in-joke for the show’s fans, where Sam got his favored alias “Chuck Finley.” But overall The Fall of Sam Axe is a diverting trifle pitting Sam against a cadre of corrupt Colombian military guys who want to destroy a clinic and pin the blame on the supposed “terrorist group” Espada Ardiente.

Campbell, slimmed down for the two-years-younger Sam Axe before he relocated to Crockett and Tubbs’ stomping grounds and had a few too many ice-cold beers, won’t disappoint his cult. Wisecracking all the way, but not cynical like Ash, Sam’s a good guy in a bad situation, which he works through with his smarts and military training. His Español may be terrible, but he tries hard to gain the trust of Espada Ardiente — mostly a scruffy band of goat-herders, led by a tough teenage girl (Ilza Rosario) — and prepare them, along with a couple of clinic workers, for the Colombian onslaught.

Donovan and writer/series creator Matt Nix keep things slick, fast and light, like the better Burn Notice episodes that don’t get too bogged down in the show’s serious master arc. Sam’s interplay with Michael (aside from that brief scene) and Fiona is missed a little, but he gets to flirt with a food aid worker (Kiele Sanchez) and, in nods to Campbell’s most iconic role, wield (and even hurl) a chainsaw and hold a rifle aloft in what Evil Dead geeks will instantly recognize as the Boomstick Stance. Campbell’s affable narration helps, and is a welcome change of pace from Michael Westen’s sometimes-irritating narration on the show, which always sounds like this: “As a spy, you usually have to do something or other, and I’m telling you this in a really condescending cadence, because you’re an idiot.” Campbell sounds more like a guy bending your ear as he bends his elbow.

Sam ends up in Columbia in the first place because he got caught nailing an admiral’s wife, which is perfectly in character for Sam and for Campbell. Really, this is the sort of lightweight adventure we should be seeing Bruce Campbell in much more often, on the big screen, but since he’s kind of aged out of that role, this movie and the Burn Notice show are the only places you get to see him being heroic on a regular basis. It’s not Bubba Ho-Tep, or even My Name Is Bruce, but then what is?

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