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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
EXIT STRATEGY (BUSTED FOX PILOT)
(written by David Guggenheim; directed by Antoine Fuqua; TRT: 46:09)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out? The current pilot is being retooled for a potential midseason order.
The plot in a nutshell: "When a CIA operation goes wrong and an agent's life is at risk, a clean-up team is sent to get them out," explains a set of "Matrix"-esque opening titles. "And erase any trace they were ever there." And with that we're dropped into one such operation in Shanghai, as the relatively green Natalie Clayton (Lily Rabe) can only watch as her operations officer (Max Martini) is captured and killed by a Serbian thug named Nikola (Mike Dopud). They're after a satchel, one currently in Clayton's possession. Her only option: get to a safehouse and wait for a clean-up crew to rescue her. Enter Eric Shaw (a smoky voiced Ethan Hawke) and his team: Tarik Hassan (Elyes Gabel, weapons/transport), Mia Braga (Lina Esco, documents), Jonathan Marks (Tom Sizemore, support officer) and Dr. Hannah Bryce (Megan Dodds, field medic).
They quickly manage to clean the murder scene to make it look like brain herniation however Clayton is nowhere to be found at the safehouse. She's rabbited as it quickly becomes clear someone leaked information about their operation, compromising her safety. Shaw ultimately tracks her down and they're tasked with completing the mission: deliver the satchel to CIA contact in Shanghai. This brings up a whole new set of obstacles, including that Shaw may have known Clayton's long lost brother (a development heavily telegraphed from the start) as she joined the service to find out what happened to him. More pressing however is that Nikola continues to remain one step ahead of them - further solidifying the fact someone inside the CIA may be selling them out.
What works: It's got all the touchstones of your typical action movie: monosyllabic heroes, check; dialogue straight from the tough guy manual, check (Mia: "Six months in, I thought it would get easier." Hannah: "Six years in, it doesn't. You learn to live with it."); the assembled team walking in slow motion as they head out for their mission, check; the line heard in every action movie, ever ("I warned you if I ever saw you again I'd kill you."), check; cars exploding from RPGs and a chase through a techno-thumping nightclub, check and check; even the prerequisite shameless product placement (in this case Audi), check; the list goes on. The problem is...
What doesn't: ...it doesn't offer much beyond that. Sure there's a few interesting kernels - for instance, the idea that Shaw must con an innocent like Clayton into doing the exchange without sharing just how dangerous it is hints at some dark territory - but they're either glossed over or ultimately abandoned in favor of the aforementioned boilerplate antics. And I suppose if you're in the right mood, good guys who rarely speak more than a sentence at a time shooting at bad guys who speak mostly in subtitles for an hour in front of CGI-assisted foreign locales could be fun, but even on that level it still feels a little clumsy, like it's all the above elements Scotch taped together rather than organically created. It doesn't help that its one moment of honest emotion - regarding Clayton's brother - comes at the peak of its machismo: Shaw getting a bullet removed from his chest in the middle of a car chase. So here's hoping in the retooling they do more than...
The bottom line: ...go down the action movie checklist.