As I took my place in the saucy cowhair-upholstered seats at the Soho Hotel for the press screening of the fourth series of Strike Back, gobbling my eighth mini hotdog with the wild abandon of someone for whom the purchase of food features somewhere before socks but after cotton buds priority-wise, the realisation dawned that I had not the foggiest inkling about what was coming. I’d seen some promotional material featuring hunky beefcakes and svelte-but-hench heroines dripping with salacious sweat and adorned with military paraphernalia. Faces plastered with determination, and virile fire spouting from every orifice. But then that’s not newsworthily out of character for Soho. Clearly I was in for an evening that would be easy on the eyes, but would it be easy on the brain?
As I was thrust into the hotel’s intimate basement space in which several members of the cast were (apparently – I couldn’t have told you who was who) milling about and generally fizzing with champagne-fuelled bonhomie, it struck me that an ignoramus of my calibre was a pretty good litmus test for Strike Back. I was theirs for the taking, a nut for the cracking, a fan for the winning – no expectations, no preconceptions. A blank slate.
The two episodes on which we would feast our lusty peepers hit the ground running with a smashing theme tune (Short Change Hero by The Heavy, since you’re asking, Dead Curious musos). A good theme tune is half the battle in today’s world of entertainment overload, as the cup runneth veritably over with the endless stream of on-demand content. But enough guff. Strike Back is a British production of the action-slash-military persuasion, bursting with all the bombastic testosterone one could hope for – or fear, depending on your disposition – brought to life by Sky1 and Cinemax. Leading the pack this time round are actors Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester, who are embroiled in a conventional yet endearing on-screen macho bromance. Burly quips, cocky banter, gruff affection, meaningful (but totes hetero) glances, and so on and so forth. So I was delighted and more than a little relieved when Martin Clune’s lovable mugshot popped on to the screen to restore balance, and generally appeal to the more genteel nooks and crannies of the soul.
This particular series, set predominantly in corruption-ridden Columbia, was filmed in a variety of locations from Johannesburg to Mozambique to Budapest. Enough to give anyone who collects Airmiles (now Avios? Eh, what?) itchy feet, at any rate. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly innovative about the plot – dead comrades, drug cartels, terrorists, agents fallen from grace, big guns and bigger muscles, turbulent and impromptu lovemaking etc. – but the two hours passed pretty quickly. The cast were at pains during the subsequent Q-and-A session to emphasise that there is far less gratuitous fornication than in the previous series. Not being privy to season four’s predecessors, I can only infer that these must consist of proper top-shelf stuff, as the introductory scenes of this new series’ first episode weren’t exactly filled with the sort of thing you could sit down to watch in the company of your grandma, a cup of tea and a Hobnob. Steamy stuff aside, there’s plenty of other loud noises to keep you awake; not to mention overt gore and ruckus by the military truckload. Taser to the groin, anyone? The level of pleasure to be derived from this variety of in-yer-face violence may divide opinions like Marmite or Lana Del Rey, but suffice to say a quick perusal of the cinema at the end of the evening revealed a smattering of popcorn cartons that had been crushed into a soggy pulp by hands writhing in anguish.
Although Strike Back isn’t exactly upholstered in the hessian cloth of originality, it’s hard to deny that it is entertaining, in a way that loud bangs and handsome humans are usually entertaining. And hats off to Stapleton and Winchester for having the gumption to do their own stunts. Apparently some plucky Sonny Jim from the on-set team removed a bunch of “do not swim – crocodiles” signs from a river in order to lure them into the bacteria-infested water, from which they subsequently became ill (though not de-limbed). Watching the three male protagonists share their experiences during question time, there seemed to be a sense of genuine camaraderie between them which, frankly, is always nice to see among humans. Twelve-pack or not.
Will I be watching the third episode when it airs? Probably. Damn those crocodile-infested cliffhanger endings. And those hunky beefcakes.
Strike Back: Shadow Warfare hit the US, Friday on Cinemax. It will probably descend on the UK sometime thereafter. TBC. Anyone’s guess, really.