Adrenaline junkies craving the fist-pumping, nothing-stops-the-mission heroics of Jack Bauer since "24" ended its run, Cinemax has your fix.
"Strike Back" (9 p.m. Fridays beginning Aug. 12; 2.5 stars) is a stylish, addictive action thriller that fills a definite void in the macho spy drama genre. I just wish the 10-part series didn't take Cinemax's joke name—Skinemax—so much to heart. But I'll get to that a little later.
When "24" debuted, it captured that post-9/11 desire viewers had to see the good guys score some wins over terrorists. That's why it was such a success, despite the implausibility of its many plot twists and action sequences.
Now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "Strike Back" brings back that desire to kick some terrorist butt—or at least it offers an escape from downer headlines.
A joint production from Cinemax and British Sky Broadcasting, "Strike Back" is a sequel of sorts to a British miniseries that starred Richard Armitage ("Robin Hood") and Andrew Lincoln ("The Walking Dead") as a pair of British intelligence agents who work for the secret Section 20, a clandestine branch of MI-6 that specializes in high-risk, high-priority targets. In other words, they tracked down terrorists.
This series begins with Richard Armitage's character, John Porter, held captive by the notorious terrorist Latif (Jimi Mistry), who has sworn to kill Porter and launch devastating attacks against the West if Britain and the U.S. don’t free certain prisoners.
Section 20's commander, Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing), sends her ultra-serious agent, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), to find an American named Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), a former Delta Force operative who was kicked out of the U.S. Army’s intelligence unit during the Iraq war.
When Stonebridge finds Scott, the American is living above a whorehouse and kickboxing for money in Kuala Lumpur. After escaping from a group of gangsters, the two macho men form an uneasy alliance to track Latif and his group across the globe.
While they hunt Latif, Section 20 works other missions that have them cross paths with a psycho Irishman (Liam Cunningham) and other diabolical villains. The writers also have thrown in an intriguing conspiracy or two that will trouble Scott and Stonebridge all season long.
There isn’t anything too deeply intellectual here because the action moves the plot. And “Strike Back” has action to spare. And while some plot devices are familiar—hotel hostage-taking was done a couple times on the superior “MI-5”—but “Strike Back” avoids action cliches just enough to avoid being a ridiculous Steven Seagal movie.
The actors ground the show as well, adding emotional heft to what could be caricatures. Winchester, an American who has probably played more Brits than anything (most recently in “Camelot”), delivers again, this time as the “good guy” who is conflicted by his work. Stapleton, an Aussie, does a great job as the brash, unlikable American—although he says “buddy” so often you, too, might want to smack him. His Scott becomes more appealing each episode—and he’s easy on the eyes.
It’s a good thing both Stapleton and Winchester look good in the buff. This being Skinemax, the creators of the show throw a whole lot of nudity and sex at viewers. I can’t believe I’m complaining about it, but the nudity here is often gratuitous to the point of being laughable. When we first meet Scott, we see his butt before his face as he conducts an exaggerated stand-up session with one of the working gals living beneath his apartment.
I think we get the point that Scott’s a womanizer by the way he hits on every woman he meets; we don’t need to see a month’s worth of breasts and butt cheeks in every episode. Jack Bauer never even went to the bathroom, let alone slept around.
All that unnecessary sex distracts from the important stuff, like watching these testosterone titans take down the terrorists.
Watch the first six minutes of the premiere below.
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