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TV Review: El Rey’s ‘Matador’

Gabriel Luna, Alfred Molina, Nicky Whelan, Neil Hopkins  

Being pragmatic about it, you can’t blame the producers of espionage series “Matador” for trading the stodgy old tennis circuit in “I Spy” for a growth sport like soccer – especially (and opportunistically) coming out of World Cup mania. But this latest original offering from Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network comes in so wide of its gooooal of approximating an old-fashioned spy yarn as to practically border on parody. Gabriel Luna plays a DEA agent who is drafted to go undercover as a professional soccer player, but the resulting pilot is about as exciting as its opening slow-motion chase. More marketable than watchable, “Matador” is worth sidestepping.

Luna’s Tony “Matador” Bravo is introduced in the midst of a sting operation, in which he runs down a suspect (never mind the bad guy’s awful German accent) despite having consumed several tequila shots. This catches the attention of the CIA (don’t ask), which enlists him to try out for the L.A. Riot, a pro soccer team, hoping to get a foothold (heh heh) in bringing down the team’s corrupt billionaire owner, Andres Galan (Alfred Molina, deserving of better).

Bravo’s handlers, naturally, include an icy blond (Nicky Whelan) who cleans up really well and a smart-talking skeptic (Neil Hopkins), with the former saying things like, “You’re not here to shoot guns. You’re here to shoot goals.” Alas, that gives way to a practice sequence set to music, which is something of a relief if only because there’s no dialogue.

The show’s quartet of creators includes the prolific Roberto Orci (“Sleepy Hollow”), and Rodriguez directed the pilot. Those auspices notwithstanding, the show plays like a slapdash effort, conceived less by creative spark than as the product of focus-group testing, with a dash of nostalgia thrown in.

In a very pay-cable-like move, El Rey has already extended a vote of confidence in the show by ordering a second season. Thus far, though, the network has failed to impress with original offerings like its “From Dusk Till Dawn” reboot, exhibiting less of the renegade image the channel claims to serve than an appetite for trotting out retreads in new packages.

It’s early, of course, but like Tony at tryouts, there are only so many chances to make a good impression. And with something that misses the mark like “Matador,” the network isn’t putting its best foot forward – or looking particularly ready for the big leagues.

TV Review: El Rey's 'Matador'

(Series; El Rey Network, Tues. July 15, 9 p.m.)

Production: Produced by K/O Paper Products, Rodriguez Intl. Pictures, FactoryMade Ventures and Distilled Fiction.

Crew: Executive producers, Roberto Orci, Dan Dworkin, Jay Beattie, Heather Kadin, Robert Rodriguez, John Fogelman, Cristina Patwa, Alex Kurtzman; supervising producer, Steve Lichtman; producer, Jill Danton; director, Rodriguez; writers, Dworkin, Beattie, Roberto Orci; story, Roberto Orci, Andrew Orci, Dworkin, Beattie; camera, Joseph E. Gallagher; production designer, Anthony Medina; editor, Adam Wolfe; music, Juan Carlos Rodriguez; casting, Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham. 60 MIN.  

Cast: Gabriel Luna, Alfred Molina, Nicky Whelan, Neil Hopkins  

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