XIII -- TV Review

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There is more than a passing resemblance to the "Bourne" film franchise and "24" in "XIII," whose title leaves the impression it must be set in ancient Rome or something but is in fact every inch the contemporary tale. It's even got a scruffy guy in perpetual peril who has the raw essence of a thinner, slightly younger and somewhat hunkier Jack Bauer. And the title is a number. But that's all got to be coincidental, huh?

Sure it is. Let's go with that.

As the second miniseries to air during the past few weeks on NBC -- the first having been the abominable "The Last Templar," which left us praying there really are no other templars to come -- "XIII" is at least coherent and packed with adrenaline. It even has a couple of genuine surprises up its sleeve. If it's a bit over the top and overly taken with its own pulse-pumping earnestness, well, that's just the kind of unsubtle transparency that too much of network primetime seems to demand these days. Call it the Bonehead Effect, and please, blame reality TV for it.

The hyper-cooked plot line of this two-nighter that was adapted from a 1980s European comic book and a later video game evolves out of the assassination of the first female U.S. president (Mimi Kuzyk) by a single sniper shot as she's delivering a Veterans Day speech. It soon becomes clear that this is -- get this -- a conspiracy! Imagine!

The guy we think done the dirty deed shows up a few months thereafter underneath a parachute and wedged in a tree with a bullet in his arm and a complete lack of memory of who he is and why he's there. What we know is that he's apparently Steve Rowland (great work from Stephen Dorff), a total badass warrior with a mysterious "XIII" tattooed on his neck. Oh, and he's also got a bunch of really shadowy guys with automatic weapons trying to kill him, headed by a humorless jerk who goes by the name Mongoose VIII (Val Kilmer).

Things proceed with appropriately unsettling mystery and intrigue through the first two-hour installment, with a couple of intriguing twists along the way that make it clear this XIII operative had better get his wits about him quickly so our very government isn't taken down. Like we said, he's very Bauer-esque. We know he's dazed and confused, though, because he has a chance to have his way with "Casino Royale" Bond girl Caterina Murino and shows no apparent interest. Seems he has no memory of what sex is like. How tragic is that?

The final night begins to grow redundant in its characterizations and pacing. But the script from scribes David Wolkove and Philippe Lyon is serviceable and lively, and Duane Clark's direction, while it seems to favor speed over clarity, evokes the proper pulse-pounding ambiance. All in all, this isn't a half-bad political thriller. It just would have been better had it been about half as long.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Sunday-Monday, Feb. 8-9 (NBC)
Production: Prodigy Pictures and Cipango in association with Power
Cast: Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff, Stephen McHattie, Jessalyn Gilsig, Ted Atherton, John Bourgeois, Greg Bryk, Lucinda Davis, Caterina Murino
Director: Duane Clark
Writers: David Wolkove, Philippe Lyon
Executive producers: Jay Firestone, Edouard de Desinne, Thomas Anargyros, Justin Bodle.
Co-executive producer: Peter M. Lenkov
Producers: Ken Gord, Frederic Bruneel
Associate producers: Zenon Yunko, Alexia de Beauvoir
Based on the graphic novels written by Jean Van Hamme and drawn by William Vance
Director of photography: David Greene
Production designer: Craig Lathrop
Costume designer: Anne Dixon
Editor: Yann Herve
Sound mixer: Bill McMillan
Casting: Lisa Parasyn casting, Jon Comerford, Wendy O'Brien Casting