BUDDIES It's a dirty job, but Scott and Stonebridge love it as much as they love each other.
How many post-9/11 action-adventure roller-coaster rides can we take? How many hostage "extractions"? How many just-in-the-nick-of-time rescues from terrorist attacks? How often can we bite our nails in anticipation as one of our heroes blows a bloody hole in the coconut of some bad guy — excuse, me, "neutralizes a terrorist threat"?
Strike Back, which begins its second season on Cinemax this Friday night at 10 pm, is the latest in a long line. Our heroes: "Brutal. Ruthless. Deadly. And they're the good guys." So says the box for the lavish new Blu-ray/DVD set of season 1. This is "Skinemax," of course, so in addition to the beautifully photographed and edited atomized sprays of blood and the particularly satisfying simulations of exploding head-shot exit wounds, there's also abundant T & A, with plenty of male A tossed into the equation.
The story follows the British military's Section 20 counter-terrorism unit as they pursue various black ops around the globe. It's a "team," but really this is a buddy story. Michael Stonebridge is a stiff-upper-lipped Brit who's trying to hold a marriage together as he fights the irresistible urge to hunt and kill bad guys. And Damien Scott is a disgraced former US Special Forces operative, given a "second chance" to redeem himself in Section 20, and fighting, not very hard, to resist the urge to fuck every woman he meets.
And they're a good team, these two. Played by Philip Winchester, Stonebridge is appropriately hard-jawed. Sullivan Stapleton's Scott has some of the nutty innocence of Lethal Weapon-era Mel Gibson, especially when he makes his mouth and eyes form a perfect "O" as if to ask, "Who, me?" The women, of course, find him irresistible.
Stonebridge and Scott bump from episode to episode, country to country, fighting, fucking, blowing away bad dudes. The barrage of explosions and ambushes over the course of the season could have become tiresome, but our guys were after a supervillain, and one expertly turned cliff-hanger after another kept us on his trail with them. What's more, as Stonebridge and Scott galloped from one continent to the next, they racked up one failure after another. The seventh episode's classic hostage extraction, flight, and pursuit through Kosovo was a kind of turning point, leading to a near-classic tragedy in the season finale: a morally compromised Section 20 team member redeemed by paying the ultimate price to save the day.
Season 2 promises an equally satisfying arc. Whereas previously we'd been trying to prevent the release of toxic gas, now we're in pursuit of a half-dozen nuclear triggers, nestled like giant, magic ben wa balls in their little traveling case, and hauled across every war-torn country in Africa. There's another villainous mastermind, this time played by esteemed British character actor Charles Dance, and a tired but determined whisper-voiced American mercenary and his super-hot chick sharpshooter sidekick. There's a wise, mythic Muslim, a kind of Charon the ferryman, who speaks in aphorisms ("I have a shroud for everyone"). And there's a shrewd and beautiful female Taureg chieftain who, underneath her flowing blue robes, wears leather pants, a leather halter-top, and packs a .45.