Agent X: Sacrifice – Moving on Up (Review)

After Agent X has spent a lot of time building up John Case (the agent is one tough customer) a Mayan battle axe takes the man down. Surprises all around as the vice president’s personal weapon of choice seemed, apart from his poisoning last week, pretty much too tough to tackle.

pre_agent-xjpg

After  Agent X has spent a lot of time building up John Case (the agent is one tough customer) a Mayan battle axe takes the man down. Surprises all around as the vice president’s personal weapon of choice seemed, apart from his poisoning last week, pretty much too tough to tackle.  Sharon Stone finally moves up and out of the White House and into a helicopter which allows her to move away from the somnambulistic acting style that the Oscar nominated actress has adopted thus far.

Before going into a closer look at the show, mad props to whoever decided to make John Case (Jeff Hephner) a disciple of MacGyver (for those who have not had a television glued to their face since birth, MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson, was the all time master at improvisational weapon making) as proven when he boobytraps the crashed chopper with petrol, a flare gun and the fire extinguisher. What ever else happened in this episode, this was its crowning moment. 

A flashback, which becomes very important later on, has John and Millar (Gerald McRaney)  in a marina observing a takedown being orchestrated by fellow agent, and friend of Case, Ray – whose face we never see. Ray is blown up while onboard his sailing vessel, via a purse bomb and his body is charred beyond recognition.  John feels responsible and Millar lets him.  Malcolm tells the then vice president and later president, Eckhart that he will be of more use “that way.” 

Fast forward and Natalie Maccabee takes on the task of mediator when negotiations break down between the Mexican president and an insurgent who sells drugs to buy weapons.  The VP take the two parties on a helicopter ride, over Mexico,  where they cannot just leave when things get rough.

Unfortunately, Nicolas Volker (Andrew Howard) and his team steal an E.M.P cannon and shoot both Maccabee’s chopper and their escort bird out of the air.  Luckily for all on board the vice president’s ride (except for the pilot and co-pilot who die in the crash)  Case is on hand.

The Mexican president is badly injured and the insurgent, along with his daughter (played brilliantly by Gabrielle Walsh), and  Maccabee move the wounded man to a Mayan archeological site for treatment and to call for help. Case stops off to “arm” the fallen chopper and takes out most of the villainous Volker’s crew. 

Another “mad props” moment is when, after the explosion, only Nicolas and one henchman are left alive. The henchman has a leg that has been pretty much shredded by the blast.  Cue a The Wild Bunch moment.  In true Sam Peckinpah style, the wounded baddy tells his boss that “I can walk.”

Staggering and falling the wounded man moves away from Volker. While this leader does not shoot his injured minion in the face, he does smash his skull with a rock. The implication is different in Agent X than in the Peckinpah film.  Pike  shoots his gang member for two reasons, to put him out of his suffering and because he will slow them up.

Nicolas kills his one surviving team member, one feels, just because the man will hinder his mission, both acts are cold-blooded and shocking.

Volker, who would make any Bond villain proud, was at the Mayan dig  before the survivors – they shot down the helicopters from the  site, and Maccabee and co.  find all the workers dead, murdered by Volker and his men.  The villain shows up later and when he leaves, Case is his unwilling travel partner.

pre_agent-xjpg-2
Gerald McRaney and Sharon Stone

This episode marks a turning point for Agent X. While it still shows off Gerald McRaney and star Hephner in a good light, it also allowed Sharon Stone to drop the sleep walking performance that has marred the series thus far.  For a start, her Maccabee is allowed to get out of the White House, or that secret office, and do something other than be a figurehead.

She works well in the negotiation scenes and later, as they all scramble for safety, Stone rises to the occasion as Maccabee.  The VP is even allowed to use Case’s service pistol to shoot, and wing, Volker.

Up north of the border, McRaney discovers that a trusted colleague “betrayed” the brotherhood, by leaving a hole in their computer system’s security software.  This realization leads to a discovery that Case has already made.

An interteresting note is that Eckhart (John Shea) turns up when Maccabee goes missing, it seems that when the current VP dies, or is “lost” the previous one steps in. While this facilitated the plot of Sacrifice, it also screams “plot-hole.”  Trying to imaging a prior VP, who could well be from another political party and no longer in office suddenly being in charge of Agent X again is stretching the old suspension of disbelief envelope to breaking.

Overall this episode worked, despite the show makers putting John Case in peril again. After last week’s episode also put Case in a life or death situation, this could be seen as a lack of creativity. This is not, however, the case (no pun intended) this  week’s plot device makes sense when the flashback and the storyline are all put together.

While Olga Petrovka’s absence is still keenly  felt, Nicolas Volker as villain is fun to watch and his larger than life “Big Bad” actions make him a real treat. Hephner still sells it as the “super” agent, who is more Jason Bourne than James Bond, although a bit more “human” than Bourne.

pre_agent-xtif
Jeff Hephner

Agent X  is moving up the scale.  The actors are settling in and hitting their stride, some quicker than others but this is starting to come together. The series airs Sundays on TNT;  tune in and see how the Yank’s do “licensed to kill.” Cracking entertainment that just leapt up a notch.

 

Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences (Review)

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.

pre_agnet-xjpg

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this week’s Agent X: Truth, Lies and Consequences is the cameo by former  Hunter star Fred Dryer, all that was needed to make this a complete fanboy moment would have been the presence of Dryer’s co-star from the small screen version of “Dirty Harry” Stepfanie Kramer.  In terms of guest starring cameos, even though Dryer is not on long, Fred has not lost his ease and conviction in front of the camera.

The storyline this week has John Case (Jeff Hephner) being exposed to a biological agent which induces a heart attack to those infected by “Husk” after 12 hours.  This gives the vice president’s agent a very limited time to catch the villains responsible and to stop them from infecting thousands of innocent civilians. 

Sharon Stone, as Natalie Maccabee, widow and new vice president to John Shea‘s President Eckhart, seems to be trapped into underplaying her government official to the maximum extent possible.  While this somnambulistic approach works well in many cases on the big screen, it makes for a pretty underwhelming experience on television.

The main problem may well be that Stone is the mast which this series has been hoist upon, in other words, she is the draw…the figurehead, the “name” meant to pull in  viewers. With little to do, apart from assigning her agent to various “world saving missions” the star, who has, incidentally, massive acting chops, is being dangerously underused.

Thus far, her “right-hand man” Gerald McRaney as Malcolm Millar is infinitely more entertaining and watchable. Take the episode open where Case is annihilating the practice dummies in his workout room. Millar comes in and stares down at Agent X beating the thing into submission.

Millar to Case: “Hey! You keep killing em all, we’ll never get any intel.”

McRaney specializes in these type of roles, the sage and clever advisor who has seen it all and done it all and can crack a decent joke about it.  However, having a righthand man who can dominate a scene does not help Stone, or the show since McRaney is never on screen that much or that often.

Leaving aside shortfalls of the cast’s main protagonists, or misuse of same, the plot has Case rushing to save the day while turning down help, in the form of an anecdote, which will keep him from dying. Sadly we as viewers have not yet bonded enough with Hephner’s John Case to be too worried about his possible demise.

The threat of an airborne virus to be released from a rocket also never really takes off either. A young woman, whose whistle-blower parents were murdered by the government to keep their biological weapon in their control may be a variation on an old theme, but not enough of one to make a difference.

The viewer does not connect with the woman who wants revenge, or her nerdish “boyfriend” that she uses to make her weapon work.  This year has seen a plethora of “nebbish” young men in other shows, NBC’s The Player to mention just one, and it is awfully early in the season to see this much “lack of originality” in a storyline.

Agent X does have some things going for it. Unfortunately none of them were apparent in this episode.  The writers,  under the guidance of show creator W. Blake Herron have given us a hero in peril too soon. We have not yet warmed to this taciturn secret agent/assassin who is the agent of good for the vice president.

Bring back Olga Petrovka (Olga Fonda) , a  bigger than life villain who has an uneasy alliance, and great chemistry, with Hephner. These two maintain interest when they share the screen and please, would someone wake Sharon Stone up, or give her some decent lines?  At the very least…More McRaney please.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT. Tune in and see what you think of the sleepwalking vice president and her “pet” agent.

Agent X: The Devil and John Case (Review)

Agent X: The Devil and John Case continues to suffer from the same lethargic pacing that this TNT action/drama has exhibited since its pilot debut. Jeff Hephner as John Case, aka Agent X, still manages to deliver the goods.

pre_agent-xtif

Agent X: The Devil and John Case continues to suffer from  the same lethargic pacing that this TNT action/drama has exhibited since its pilot debut. Jeff Hephner as John Case, aka “Agent X,” still manages to deliver the goods, although his dialogue had been halved this week.   Thus far the new series seems to take itself far too seriously with a tendency to manufacture gravitas and Sharon Stone as the vice president, who has a secret agent all to herself, is almost glum in her portrayal of the widowed right-hand of the president. 

The show, despite its creeping delivery,  has enough plot devices to sink a stereotypical trope ship.  Agent X does have  a dearth of talent available, Stone and  Gerald McRaney represent the big and small screen in terms of acting talent and the guest stars as well as recurring role “fillers” are not small potatoes either.

The “Jack in the box” villain, who shoots the captive man and woman at the end of the episode, who also appeared in the Agent X pilot, is a regular on another “Agent” show. Andrew Howard, who plays Banks on the opposing team to Phil Coulson’s gang on Joss Whedon’s small screen Marvel series, Agents of SHIELD. This Welsh actor proves here that he can be menacing in just about any scenario.

It was also nice to see Carlos Gómez (Gang Related, The Glades) in a cameo role as the corrupt local police chief. The plot of this episode of Agent X takes Case down south of the border to take on a Santeria type cartel boss who is terrorizing the locals and responsible for the death of a undercover DEA agent.

Arturo Del Puerto plays El Diablo, a Bruja (Or Brujo?)  leader of the cartel who seems omnipresent until he faces Case at the end of the episode.  The drugs lord is searching for a ledger which can incriminate him and his gang.  Case has to, find the ledger, stop the cartel and look good while saving the day.

Sadly,  the entire episode, with its subplot of the vice president trying to find out if her late husband the senator was having a affair, feels like one long cliche with worn out tropes being shuffled into the plot. With all the reliances on stereotypes it was a little surprising  not to see Danny Trejo on board as an aging enforcer…

On a positive note, it was very nice to see that the cancellation of Constantine did not keep Angelica Celaya (she played Zed Martin on the short-lived NBC series) from doing an impressive job as Luna, the local cop who befriends John Case and later fights El Diablo in the dusty street.

In the area of vice presidential subterfuge, the “dead husband having an affair” subplot indicates that there are some governmental things going on that  may need Natalie Maccabee’s “Man X” to step in do some bad guy bashing.

Sadly, Olga Fonda as Olga Petrovka, was missing this week and because of this sinful omission, the show felt a bit flat as she is the only performer who seems capable of chewing up bits of scenery, while everyone one else underplays their parts so much they appear comatose.

Energy is needed in this new TNT offering and if the viewer’s interest is to be piqued, then adrenaline needs to be forcefully injected…Stat. Agent X airs Sundays on TNT. Tune in and see just how well film star Sharon Stone translates to the small screen.

 

Agent X: Matt Helm Without the Comedy (Review)

img_pre_agent-xjpg_18-2

Admittedly the first half of the Agent X premiere, apart from the presence of Sharon Stone, felt a bit bland. The second half, felt like Matt Helm, without the comedy.  Donald Hamilton, author of the Matt Helm franchise would have been proud.  Granted, the whole Vice President’s personal agent feels a little Wild Wild West, the TV show and not the Will Smith vehicle, but it works…barely.

To be fair, Agent X, aka John Case (Jeff Hephner) is no dead ringer for the New Mexico secret agent that Hamilton created to challenge James Bond’s English double Oh killer. The author wanted to cut away from all the OTT champagne and quail’s eggs dressings of the Queen’s killer and created the tall Helm to show how the Yanks would do it.

Fans of the books will remember that Helm was nothing like Dean Martin’s comic interpretation, which was entertaining in its own right, and that the spy/assassin was wooed and had affairs with the enemy, and if not affairs, at least indulged in mutual attractions. A lot like Olga Fonda‘s  character (Olga Petrovka) and Case’s flirtatious, on her side anyway, relationship in the second half of the two hour pilot.

Hephner’s Agent X may be an American Bond without the foie gras and caviar-filled blinis, but he could  also  be the no nonsense Helm from Hamilton’s books.  With Sharon Stone filling in for the big guy, Mac. (Another nod and wink to the Ian Fleming books, Bond worked for “M”, Helm for Mac…get it?)

The new TNT series feels more like a National Treasure and I Spy mash up than a small screen Americanized James Bond rip off.  Although the Matt Helm theme is all too evident to an old fan of Hamilton’s answer to 007. Even the inclusion of Fonda as Petrovka feels a little like Helm’s old flames, Tina and/or Vadya. (Vadya would be more appropriate as the Russian agent works with Matt several times, Tina gets taken out rather quickly in the first ever book about Helm’s return to “government service.”)

Of course, this series has “hung its credentials around the neck of Stone, who has lost nothing on the small screen. Her portrayal of the new vice president of the USA may be a little serious, and even bland, but it is early days yet. Gerald McRaney as her “right hand man” is good as ever.

Hephner is more than adequate as the “secret” secret agent man, but unless everyone is careful, Fonda could rule this show.

img_pre_agent-xjpg_14-2
Jeff Hephner in action as John Case, Agent X

It is interesting to note that Agent X also mentions the Dark Web, a presence mentioned on two other shows dealing with the FBI.  Blindspot and The Player both mention this nefarious part of the Internet. Is Hollywood trying to tell us something?

In terms of action and stunts, the new TNT offering is impressive but not as impressive as The Player or Blindspot with their snazzy shoot outs and Philip Winchester has no need to worry about losing his action crown just yet.

Agent X gave viewers a huge dose of gravitas with a guest spot filled by none other than James Earl Jones (Voice of CNN and Mustafa in The Lion King, to mention but two accomplishments by the grand actor and his mellifluous vocal talents.) and Sharon Stone in the “starring role” as boss of the hidden agent gives the series a good pedigree.

However, great bona fides do not a good show make and Agent X needs to up its game to catch up to another TNT series on offer that already gives the audience a palatable “agent” in the guise of Sean Bean’s Martin Odum on Legends.

Agent X airs Sundays on TNT and is, thus far, a slow entry but one that Donald Hamilton may have really enjoyed. While John Case is not Matt Helm, there are enough similarities that this reviewer will be watching to see if they continue. Tune in, if for no other reason than to feast your eyes on Stone or Olga Fonda and their performances.

The Best of Me James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in Predictable Weepy

The Best of Me James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in Predictable Weepy

Nicholas Sparks has more than a fair share of romantic weepy films for love story addicts to choose from, the latest being The Best of Me starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in a predictable tissue grabbing movie. Set in Louisiana it features the age old cliche of star crossed young lovers where the boy is from the wrong side of the tracks and the girl comes from a monied background. Her father offers to buy off the teenage boy she loves, but as things turn out, that futile and infuriating gesture was not really necessary.

%d bloggers like this: