Apparently bucking for a series or vidpic franchise, the high-powered producers of this two-parter can rest assured they’ve established a solid premise and viable characters. But there’s too much time spent on relationships at the expense of action, so the mini, while entertaining, disappoints as a stand-alone.
Besides exploring the costs of serving one’s country, co-creators Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik take a look at the theme of deception, which brings in issues like adultery and spousal abuse. Patriotism at this level involves great personal sacrifice, and no one — enemy or lover — can be trusted.
Their other agenda with “Op Center” is perhaps more interesting: The U.S. is not prepared for international crises, and post-Cold War downsizing of the military could have disastrous consequences. They are hugely suspicious of Russia and, as television producers, uniquely inclined to have two characters kneel and pray before a mission. Clearly, no one will detect a liberal bias here.
A National Security Adviser (Wilford Brimley) appoints businessman Paul Hood (Harry Hamlin) director of the National Crisis Management Center, ostensibly to downsize it. A true Clancy hero, he’s self-made and has something to prove, though what or why is never made clear.
On his first day, disaffected KGB officers with Boris-and-Natasha accents steal three nuclear warheads in Ukraine. Hood is in over his head, plus his marriage is falling apart.
The Op Center team has to find the nukes before they’re sold to Mideast terrorists. Variables include a leak at the White House (the president’s mistress), the anxious Israelis (depicted unflatteringly) and the cagey Russians.
Director Lewis Teague is clearly more comfortable with the action stuff, and he doesn’t get enough of a chance to show it. When the personalities are explored, things can get trite or sentimental.
Steven Sohmer’s script tends toward the didactic. It’s a moderately insightful, by-the-numbers lesson in geopolitics, and the team’s banter tends to be sophomoric. There are plenty of declarations such as, “Exploiting human weakness is what we do.”
Another problem is Hamlin. He’s handsome, but he’s lackluster as the honest problem-solver. While not quite missing in action, he comes off as remote and uninvolved — one might even say shellshocked, but his character never served in the military. One hopes he’ll turn on the charisma if this becomes a long-term gig.
The strong ensemble occasionally rises above the material. Kim Cattrall has ample sexiness for the socially ambitious wife. As expected, Rod Steiger has enormous presence in a cameo, Bo Hopkins and Carl Weathers are fine, and Brimley is wise and crusty.
Tech credits are generally good. Fresh aerial photography of D.C. sets the stage, but an old backlot set for New York scenes looks shamefully fake.
Turning “Op Center” into “ER” at Andrews Air Force Base will require striking a better balance between action and melodrama. The constraints of an hour format might help.