Two-hour pilot for highly promoted new Fox Western-adventure has the look of a hit. The fact is, it has the look of any number of hits, most of all the “Indiana Jones” trilogy. Writer-producers Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse aim for a funny action-adventure and succeed, but pic is clever without being especially smart. Sounds about right for the 8 p.m. hour, where ABC’s “Young Indiana Jones” was too smart for its own good.
The son of a U.S. marshal (R. Lee Ermey), younger Brisco (Bruce Campbell) is hired by a quintet of robber barons to, in effect, avenge his father’s death at the hands of a gang of bad guys.
The real target — and series’ maguffin — is a mysterious, round, power-giving object unearthed by a crew of coolies and impounded by the U.S. government. You might call this episode “Raiders of the Lost Orb.”
If anybody’s entitled to shamelessly rip off (er, appropriate) the tone of Indiana Jones films, it might as well be Boam, who scripted “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” as well as two “Lethal Weapon” pics. But that’s not all he borrows from, as elements of “Brisco” can be traced to sources including TV’s “Maverick” and “The Wild, Wild West” and features “Blazing Saddles,””Back to the Future” and “Support Your Local Sheriff.”
Like Indy, Brisco is a university-educated adventurer, only more skilled and less humble. On the other hand, Jones probably wouldn’t have confused Socrates, Sophocles and Aristotle.
Campbell, who plays younger Brisco, is best known as the star of Sam Raimi’s “Crime Wave” and all three “Evil Dead” films. Dashing in his own way but a bit bland, he’s no Harrison Ford.
Most interesting supporting characters include Anne Tremko as the spunky daughter of whacked-out scientist Professor Wickwire (John Astin, in the Christopher Lloyd part); bounty hunter Lord Bowler (the Richard Harris part in “Unforgiven,” played as something between Little Richard and Mr. T); and John Pyper-Ferguson as a combination of the Bruce Dern and Jack Elam roles in “Local Sheriff”: a philosophical, deranged bad guy, who says to a dance-hall girl played by Kelly Rutherford: “Sorry, Dixie, but existential thought doesn’t hold much water out here in the Territories.”
If the script ever explains how a train with dead-man’s switch can run away anyway, it does so very quickly indeed. While train crashes here aren’t up to “The Fugitive,” they’re pretty impressive (special effects: M. Kam Cooney; models, Slagle Minimotion Inc.).
Director Bryan Spicer has a strong, comic-book visual style, with several scenes shot as if in 3-D, objects whizzing into and around the camera lens. Production values are high, with Jack Green’s lighting, Randy Edelman’s music and Rodger Maus’ production design all strong pluses.
Pilot repeats Sunday night; initial order of 12 hourlong episodes begins Sept. 3.