TV Review: CBS' 'Hawaii Five-0' starring Alex O'Loughlin
With some help from Scott Caan and Len Wiseman, the third time may be the charm for Alex O'Loughlin
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I went to the movies less frequently this summer than ever before. It wasn't originally my plan, but there was a long stretch of obviously disposable premieres that I decided probably made better trailers than they did movies.
My reluctance was somewhat validated when, on a recent international flight, I tried to watch "The A Team." I gave it several shots, since it was a long flight, but it put me to sleep each time. It shouldn't be that hard to make a popcorn movie out of a popcorn TV series, but Joe Carnahan either over-thought or under-thought matters. In either case, he failed. All of the thrills in "The A Team" were in the trailer, which makes the movie a 150-second adrenaline rush padded to 117 minutes. Ugh.
One person who apparently knows how to take a popcorn TV series and retain the popcorn is Len Wiseman, the man you may like to think of as the helmer of most of the "Underworld" franchise, but who I usually refer to as "Mr. Kate Beckinsale."
If CBS' "Hawaii Five-0" is a hit, much of the credit is likely to go to Alex O'Loughlin for finally breaking his CBS curse or to Scott Caan for his boundless energy or to Daniel Dae Kim for bringing that Hawaii magic or to Grace Park for looking very good in a bikini. But if I watch a second episode of "Hawaii Five-0," and I almost certainly will, that credit will go to Len Wiseman.
[Full review of CBS' fun and bombastic "Hawaii Five-0" after the break...]
I don't begrudge the "Die Hard" purists who think that, as a "Die Hard" film, Wiseman's "Live Free or Die Hard" is a disgrace. It's definitely not a "Die Hard" film. What it is, however, is a ludicrous, adrenaline-fueled, largely brainless summer action movie executed to near perfection at times. That's not the same as a meaty, brainy summer crowd-pleaser like Christopher Nolan has now mastered, but it's still the kind of thing that ought to have a place in Hollywood.
In the same way, CBS' new "Hawaii Five-0" isn't an artful, thoughtful adult-themed thriller like "Rubicon" or "Boardwalk Empire" or certain moments of "Breaking Bad" or "Sons of Anarchy." But, with Wiseman at the helm of the pilot, it's flashy, propulsive and more brashly enjoyable than any of CBS' current hit procedurals, while also being no more or less brainless and forgettable. "Hawaii Five-0" isn't a meal that's meant to be savored, nor is it probably all that nourishing, but it tastes good going down.
Are you a "Hawaii Five-0" purist? Really? Who knew such things existed. Well, I can't tell you how, exactly, the show will play for you. I come from a generation where I was "Daniel-San" my whole childhood, whereas if I were five or 10 years older, I'm sure I'd have gotten a lot of "Book 'em Danno." I can count the number of full original "Hawaii Five-0" episodes that I've seen on one hand, though that doesn't mean that the theme song doesn't still give me chills. It's one of the all-time greats, that theme song, and after some consideration, it remains intact. Other than that, I'm comfortable with all manner of wiggle room.
We begin our story partially in South Korea and you're going to notice the feature-quality cinematography immediately. The scenario is set with the help of guest stars Norman Reedus, James Marsters and William Sadler. Detective Steve McGarrett (O'Loughlin) is a dogged crime fighter and, thanks to an opening trauma, he's also a man with a chip on his shoulder.
That chip carries over when the governor of Hawaii appoints him to head up a task force apparently entrusted with motoring around to the most photogenic corners of Hawaii and, occasionally, stopping a criminal or two. His recruits include Chin Ho Kelly, a cop who used to work for his father, Kono, Chin Ho's comely-yet-capable relative, and Danny Williams, a recent transplant who things of Hawaii as "a pineapple-infested hellhole."
Danno is likely to be in the minority there. With all of the talk of meth-cooking, human trafficking locals, it's doubtful that the Hawaii Tourism Board is going to give "Hawaii Five-0" a full-on seal of approval, but this new show captures as much of the natural beauty of the island as "Lost" did, while actually acknowledging the locations. It's up to Wiseman to successfully use those backdrops as organic settings for exploding Jeeps, shootouts and climactic hand-to-hand combat. A major concern is that Wiseman is getting more mileage out of the pedestrian (but not dreadful) pilot script. The minute a TV journeyman director takes over, "Hawaii Five-0" could lose luster in a hurry.
Adapted by Peter Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, "Hawaii Five-0" sets its pilot plotline around the previously obliquely mentioned tragedy in MeGarrett's past, but this isn't a show that feels as if it's going to be built heavily around serialized elements. I'm assuming that McGarrett will mostly be pretty level-headed and business-as-usual, but that he'll maybe get moody and serialized once or twice a year, the same way "The Mentalist" treats Red John.
Really, the show doesn't want a brooding McGarrett, because although O'Loughlin isn't at all bad at playing mopey, he tends to play mopey with such conviction that he becomes a bit of an energy-suck. In the pilot, his temperament is more even and that's probably all that will be required of this McGarrett. He has to be convincing enough in action and willing to cede the strong reactions to Danno.
Because critics are wrong if they're talking about Scott Caan "stealing" the pilot. Once McGarrett and Danno are teamed up, it's a pretty straight-forward partnership in which one character is calm and reactive and the other character is sarcastic and excitable. The show is designed for Caan to be the entertaining one and for O'Loughlin to play the duller, Type-A star. Both actors succeed in the roles as written and Caan is, indeed, the star who comes across best, though that hopefully won't be incentive for the writers to throw the show out of balance in Danno's favor.
The writing of the pilot is a bit hung up on Chin Ho and Kono as Magical Asians, who know The Island and know its People and, thus, make the right choices on an almost instinctive level. It's a cliche I hope the show will move past in subsequent episodes. I also have to believe that the writers can find ways for Park to be underclothed in future episodes without resorting to moments as voyeuristic and misogynistic as her pilot strip-search. Otherwise, this is a good place for both actors to find themselves, both in Hawaii full-time, but also in an ensemble that should give them work.
The last straight-up CBS procedural that I watched regularly was "Without a Trace" back in its earlier seasons. I've always been only a sporadic viewer of the various "CSI" entries and I've only tuned in to "Criminal Minds" to have ammunition for future mocking.
"Hawaii Five-0" may be the freshest, most fun procedural CBS has had since the earliest seasons of the first "CSI." As such, it seems possible that it'll get a Season Pass from me and it may get Alex O'Loughlin his first-ever second season.
[One last and totally irrelevant thing: Alex O'Loughlin fans need to refine their "Lots of actors have had lots of failed shows before finding their big successes" lists to stop including Simon Baker. Simon Baker had a hit his first time out. It was called "The Guardian," it ran for three seasons and after CBS cancelled it, the network struggled for years to find a show that could do similar ratings in the 10 p.m. hour. Baker's second series, "Smith," was not a star vehicle for Baker and, in fact, he played an entirely awesome and amoral character the audience was supposed to fear. Baker doesn't count, other than that it was CBS that aired all three of his shows. That doesn't change the overall point: Lots of actors have taken several shots before finding TV and/or movie stardom.]
CBS' new "Hawaii Five-0" washes up on Monday nights at 10 p.m. starting on September 20.
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