If Viacom’s likely arranged marriage of CBS and UPN seems incongruous, perhaps we’re given a preview of possible synergy with the Chuck Norris telepic “The President’s Man.” CBS draws many millions of men, albeit mostly older, to the network using its Texan kick-ass king for their Sunday movie, and then launches a younger action star for a cartoonishly violent series on the wrestling channel … uh, UPN. It all makes so much sense it’s scary.
In lots of ways, “The President’s Man” plays like a pilot. Opening sequence involves the kidnapping of the first lady, followed by a daring — and highly picturesque — rescue by Joshua McCord (Norris), a super-secret presidential pal (there’s been one, we’re told, since Lincoln) who does the dirty work when nobody else can.
But after this escapade, something deep inside McCord tells him it’s time to retire from the tedium of dare-devilry, and, with the help of his assistant daughter, beautiful Vietnamese-American Que (Jennifer Tung), he needs to find and train a replacement.
Enter the young guy, in this case embodied by Dylan Neal (“Hyperion Bay,” “The Bold and Beautiful”) as Deke Slater. Deke is a Special Forces unit leader until his conscience, and cockiness, leads him to disobey a direct order and smack his superior’s nose with an elbow for good measure. Now he’s locked up in a federal penitentiary, but, you know, for all the right reasons.
Que gets Deke released, and she and Joshua go about training the young man’s buff body for the bruising it will have to endure. Oh, and don’t forget, they’re also training his mind — he needs to learn essential life lessons in as few words as possible. That is, after all, the martial arts way. Neal resists well, succumbs well, and grimaces well.
There are some secrets hinted at in Bob Gookin’s script that give a sense that this wasn’t conceived purely as a one-shot telepic. Deke was left by his parents when he was a tiny tyke, and, for now at least, he spurns Que’s offer to track them down.
The relationship between Que — who handles the ace technology but can also kick-box — and Deke has lots of room for development, and it’s easy to imagine Norris being kicked upstairs to the cameo role, currently inhabited by Stuart Whitman as George Williams, Joshua’s predecessor and continuing advisor.
There is something disturbing about the pic’s use of Latinos and Asians as gleefully sadistic villains — one of them hits golf balls into a man as a means of torture. And Norris and Neal are both such white-bread good guys that Que’s presence is not enough to deflect the jingoistic sentiment underlying the material.
This isn’t Emmy-winning television, but there’s something refreshing about a genre telepic that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else.
“The President’s Man” is a B-picture that never complains that it deserves an “A.” Viewers who like this stuff will find it, and they’ll be satisfied.