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A dry, familiar crime drama but well acted; Paymer rocks
Network: ABC; Genre: Crime Drama; Content Rating: TV-MA (for strong language and violence); Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4)
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (1 season)
Rob Lurie's 'Line of Fire' follows a war that erupts between the Mob and the FBI. The show has an interesting set-up to this: a foot chase between an agent and a mobster ends when a member of each side gets off a shot at the same time, effectively killing each other. Lurie is the hack movie director of corny fluff such as 'The Last Castle' so at first I was pleasantly surprised with this offering.
The groundwork is set for this to be a great show. The formula is familiar but the characters are solid and well developed. That acting is outstanding. David Paymer, a longtime favorite of mine, is terrific as mob boss Jonah Malloy. Paymer is given a catch phrase that perfectly fits the character: "That's that with that". Thanks to the show's short life it will surely become a favorite among cult TV quotes.
Everyone else plays 2nd fiddle to Paymer, but the strongest of which is Leslie Hope. Hope got a lot of flack for her damsel-in-distress role in the first season of '24' but now she proves without question what a great and powerful actor she really is. Had the show focused more closely on her and Paymer that might have been the fuel it needed to strike a fire. Leslie Bibb (an intriguing post-9/11 character) and Julie Ann Emery (in a nice little domestic role reversal) also stand out. There's also the closeted homosexual agent in the mix, now requisite in this type of show to give it the appearance of "edge".
'Fire' looks good and has a classy, if slightly off kilter, intro. Finally, I though, a good, adult crime series. One where the emphasis is on characters and their struggles and not a jittery camera. But, as much as I want to love it, 'Fire' never seems to get off the ground. I waited until the very end for the writers to dig in and feast on all this show's juicy potential. Suck the lemon dry. What's the point in having such great characters and great performances if you aren't going to do anything with them? Each episode is like a microcosm of the series. It will start out with a gripping premise and then wander off, get lost in itself and end up going nowhere. It's rejection of the "gritty cop drama" school of cinematography is refreshing, I like the languishing '70s look, but it's often too slow and unfocused to stay interesting. It started out great, it had everyone in the palm of its hand with deliciously evil characters, noble questionable heroes and premium cable language and violence (Did you ever want to hear "s***" on network TV?) and then lost its grip. A more creative technical staff could have tightened up the mountain of technical problems that made this show so dry and monotonous.
The final episodes (aired by ABC as a 2-hour event movie in a shocking display of respect toward the show) where actually quite good. Great concept, well acted, but like all of them, it meandered in the long middle act into ground so familiar I lost interest. Fortunately, my patience was rewarded and it ended with a bang. Literally. A round of applause is deserved for pumping fresh and impressive life into the time-tested car crash set-piece.
Oh well, we'll always have the catch phrase. Thankfully, it wasn't shoved down our throat. NBC could learn a thing or two. In 5 years people will be saying it and it will be an obscure reference to a 1 season series called 'Line of Fire'. That's that with that.
* * ½
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