John Woo is among the many executive producers on USA’s “Red Skies,” which only makes the flaccidness of its action sequences more disappointing. Show, a 90-minute back-door pilot being aired as a “special presentation,” doesn’t reach the level of Woo’s previous television-producing effort, the short-lived Fox series “Once a Thief,” which at least delivered a bit of high-kicking pizzazz. In contrast, this effort makes Chuck Norris look like a ballet dancer.
To be fair, “Red Skies” resists being a martial arts affair to begin with, even though that’s unquestionably what it is. Story involves a Chinese military policewoman (Vivian Wu) who follows a baddie to the shores of San Diego and joins forces with a newfangled FBI squad. Writer-exec producer John Rogers (“American Outlaws”) densely populates the teleplay with one-liners about contemporary issues: the difference in law enforcement in China and the U.S., the need for a more flexible and proactive FBI in the post-9/11 era, a post-Enron view of big businessmen as criminal masterminds who never go to jail. But this would be much more entertaining if all the characters stopped talking and started fighting more often and with better style.
The characters are walking attitudes. There’s Wu’s depressed, -angry Wen Li, out to avenge the death of her partner at the hands of the evil Zhao (Roger Yuan) and unwilling to let bureaucracy — Chinese or U.S. — get in her way. Her main counterpart is the brooding David Cross (Shawn Christian), leader of the Enforcer team, given leeway within the new FBI to hunt down criminals as long as it doesn’t play too far outside the rules.
Pic begins as Cross effectively brings down a band of criminals that’s been eluding the regular, suit-wearing stiffs and is holding a busload of innocents hostage in a citrus warehouse. He’s aided throughout “Red Skies” by his right-hand man Riley (an under-used Kadeem Hardison), whose job primarily involves trading gibes with Li, rookie Nicole (Rachael Crawford) and broad-shouldered Kay (Sidney Liufau).
Almost cliched in its motleyness, this crew doesn’t have a whole lot of trouble tracking Zhao, who is attempting to set himself up as a supposedly legit businessman. Best performance in “Red Skies” comes from Clancy Brown as Cross’ beleaguered boss, a likable mix of bureaucrat and maverick.
But since the police-procedural element of the story is so absurdly contrived and unconvincing, there’s not much to do but wait for the next fight sequence. And in that arena, “Red Skies” just doesn’t deliver. Directed by episodic helmer Robert Lieberman (“The Dead Zone”) and commercial expert Larry Carroll, the action scenes are visually unpleasant and spatially incoherent. All the loud music and fast editing in the world can’t make the mushiness seem stylistically intentional.