The 4400 succeeds where shows like Heroes, No Ordinary Family, and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have failed. It puts a human face to super powers. This innovative series has such a mind-blowing take on what would happen if people developed superhuman abilities. It also uses other science-fiction conventions, plot twists and great actors to create a binge-worthy series.
Over the course of 50 years, 4400 people are abducted. On one day, they all return seemingly unchanged, but different. A government task force is created to manage their assimilation back into society. An FBI agent, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch), and a CDC agent, Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie), head up this task force to deal with their developing abilities and discover the reason they’ve returned. What follows is a shocking reveal that they were not abducted by aliens but by humans from the future. They have been given abilities to help save humanity’s future.
The series doesn’t rely too much on super powers and flashy special effects. Instead, it creates an X-Files style procedural with rich characters and an engrossing plot. Each episode, Tom and Diana must help one of the 4400 with their abilities and discover their benefit to society’s future. Meanwhile, various members of the 4400 must adjust to how life has changed since their disappearance. Baldwin’s nephew Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger) comes back with the power to heal and his family having adjusted to life without him. Conchita Campbell plays Maya Rutledge, an 8 year old abducted in 1938, and brought back with the ability to see the future. The characters are sympathetic and this adds heart to the series.
The 4400 has some pretty great acting talent. Billy Campbell (The Killing, Enough) plays Jordan Collier, a successful businessman who creates a Scientology-style religion around The 4400. The series also features appearances by Summer Glau (Serenity), Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) and Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope).
Fans of superheroes and science fiction will love The 4400. It also adds enough plot twists and dynamic relationships that non-geeks will love it too. All four seasons of the series are available on Netflix.
Who knew that Will Smith could deliver the year’s most unexpected and profoundly moving love story? He plays Ben a man with a deep dark secret that leads him help seven complete strangers each with their own particular set of circumstances. Constructed like a jigsaw puzzle we slowly get clues to the traumatic events that cause Ben to contact these people and change their lives in ways they never could have anticipated. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love with one of them -- Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) a cardiac patient whose heart may be weak but is clearly strong enough to make a difference in the way Ben looks at things. It’s this relationship that becomes the center of Grant Nieporte’s compelling screenplay but as it continues it’s obvious there is more to what Ben is doing a mystery not revealed until the final moments and one you will not easily forget. Will Smith is at his best. He may be the world’s No. 1 movie star at the moment but he’s continually proving himself to be a brilliant actor as well. Reteaming with director Gabriele Muccino who led him to a Best Actor Oscar nomination in The Pursuit of Happyness Smith once again finds his dramatic mojo in the role of a man whose life has been shattered by something so profoundly affecting that he reaches out to strangers in an effort to redeem himself. You will be hard-pressed to find the loveable Will Smith persona anywhere within this character. Dawson also has a career best as the spunky and courageous Emily a role that could have been sloppily sentimentalized and maudlin. She’s a revelation delivering a flawless and luminous performance. And best among the various recipients of Ben’s kindness is Woody Harrelson as a blind man he encounters. Also quite good is Barry Pepper as Ben’s childhood friend who is the only other person “in” on Ben’s master plan helping him to achieve his goal. He rips your heart out when he gets the call from Ben who says “It’s time.” Gabriele Muccino puts it all out there. He is an unapologetically emotional director and some will probably find fault with his style but as the Italian filmmaker proved in Pursuit of Happyness he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s taking the story. He’s most successful here in building suspense and an air of mystery around Smith’s character and then bringing it all home in a whopper of a final act. Clearly story acting and gut-level feeling are the three things that drive Muccino and his distinctive stamp and European approach is evident throughout. Most of all he has given Smith and Dawson a real showcase finding the meat of a story that’s one from the heart and good for the soul.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.