[01/23/09 - 12:27 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Last Templar, The" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Sunday, January 25 & Monday, January 26 at 9:00/8:00c)

The network's description: "In this four-hour miniseries, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite," "Mimic") stars in an epic action-adventure tale about the greatest mystery of modern time. As the journey begins, Tess Chaykin (Sorvino), a Manhattan archaeologist, reluctantly teams up with FBI agent Sean Daley (Scott Foley, "The Unit," "Felicity") � and the pair are drawn into a fast-paced, romantic adventure as they attempt to uncover the lost secrets of the legendary medieval Knights Templar. The miniseries also features Victor Garber ("Eli Stone," "Alias") as Monsignor De Angelis, a high-placed Vatican envoy. Veteran thespian Omar Sharif ("Doctor Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia") rounds out the all-star cast playing the role of Konstantine, a Greek savant who rescues Tess and Agent Daley after they are shipwrecked and wash up on the beach at Symi.

"The Last Templar" opens at a premiere gala for an exhibition of Vatican treasures at the Fine Arts Museum in New York City. Shortly after arriving, Tess witnesses four masked horsemen, dressed as Templar Knights, storm into the Museum, scattering Manhattan society. Tess watches in silent terror as the leader of the horsemen hones in on one particular piece -- a strange geared device that he grabs as he disappears into Central Park. Rewind to 1291 with the fall of the Latin Kingdom's reign in the Holy Land in Acre. As the burning city is taken by the Sultan's forces, a lone galley escapes out to sea, carrying Martin of Carmaux, a young knight from the historic order of the Knights Templar. Also on the galley are Martin's mentor, Aimard of Villiers and a mysterious chest entrusted to them by the Order's dying Grand Master. But the ship never reaches its destination. Back to present day, as the horsemen's dead bodies start turning up -- and the importance of the stolen device becomes more apparent -- Tess and Agent Daley are drawn into the dark, hidden history of the crusading Knights and of the last surviving Templars' fateful journey from Acre. The pair is soon propelled into a dangerous adventure that takes them into the cemeteries and sewers of Manhattan, across continents, through desolate Turkish highlands and finally to a violent storm on the Mediterranean that shipwrecks them onto a remote Greek island -- and into the very heart of an incredible Vatican secret."

What did they leave out? Absolutely nothing... literally.

The plot in a nutshell: While attending an exhibition of Vatican treasures at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, including her late father's prized discovery, famed archaeologist Tess Chaykin (Sorvino) is shocked when a quartet of men on horseback, dressed as the Knights Templar, crash the event and steal the aforementioned artifacts. Thankfully it's nothing Tess, her Manolo Blahniks and a makeshift jousting implement can't handle (seriously, I'm not making this up). Unfortunately her shoes don't, leaving the FBI agent assigned to the case Sean Daly (Scott Foley, again, not making this up) to replace them. Together they'll have to piece together a puzzle involving an arcane medieval decoder, the myth of a secret gospel written by Jesus that could destroy Christianity itself and an overly zealous Vatican envoy (Victor Garber) who may be out to help or hurt them. Now if they can only get over their mutual attraction/frustration with each other. It's part "Da Vinci Code," part "National Treasure" and part "Romancing the Stone!" Okay, not really but that's the feeling you get they were trying for.

What works: TV movies/mini-series definitely get a bad rap - they're cheesy, they're C-list, they look cheap and so on. But occasionally even to the most discriminating viewer, there's no better way to cleanse the palate than watching giant green spiders eat Casper Van Dien on Sci Fi or Delta Burke accidentally fall in love with her stepson on Lifetime. (Not that those were actual films, but you get my point.) Unfortunately, "The Last Templar" doesn't quite clear such a low bar.

What doesn't: About twice as long and four times as silly than it needs to be, "Templar" never quite connects with the films it's hopelessly trying to emulate. To their credit, Foley and Sorvino throw their all into the proceedings - but even that can't overcome such eye-rolling scenarios as (and I'm paraphrasing): "Sean: Slow down, you might hit a rock and break an axle! Tess: No I won't. [Cut to sound of axle breaking.]" or "Sean: I'm secretly afraid of being buried alive. Tess: You have nothing to worry about. [Cut to sound of floor breaking underneath Sean.]" But wait, as they say, there's more: from "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" (Tess cons her way into a hospital room being guarded by an FBI agent by... wait for it... simply putting on a lab coat and a stethoscope) to "huh?" (Omar Sharif randomly just turns up in the final half hour in a throwaway part) to "whaaaa?" (after losing the aforementioned arcane medieval decoder, Sean remembers the TSA takes high resolution 3-D images of all items brought through customs and constructs a new one out of plastic), the assault on your brain cells is endless.

Nevertheless, all of the above sins would be forgivable - in TV movie terms - if "Templar" made more of its subject matter or trimmed a few of its interminably long sequences. Whether it be extended flashbacks to the Templars adventures in the 13th century being replayed multiple times for no reason or that fact this globe trotting adventure doesn't even leave New York until night two, there's so much padding you can build yourself a mattress to take a nap on. Even worse, such a risque topic as a hidden gospel the Vatican doesn't want us to see gets watered down to the point that it might as well be a quest for Jesus's secret paella recipe. Ultimately, if you're looking for escapist fare on a Sunday or Monday night...

The bottom line: ...I'm sure there's some killer locusts on Sci Fi or some teenage boy learning he's too young to be a dad on Lifetime that could fill the void much better.

  [january 2009]  


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