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TELEVISION REVIEW

'XIII' does not equal '24'

XIII TELEVISION PRODUCTIONSStephen Dorff plays the title role in the NBC action two-part miniseries ''XIII.'' XIII TELEVISION PRODUCTIONSStephen Dorff plays the title role in the NBC action two-part miniseries ''XIII.'' (XIII TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 7, 2009
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It's strange watching Stephen Dorff as the action hero in the NBC miniseries "XIII." The two-part thriller, which is based on a Belgian comic book series, is a mash-up of "24" and the "Bourne" movies, both tonally and thematically. And so Dorff pitches his performance precisely in the vast nowheresville between Kiefer Sutherland and Matt Damon. He is all grunting ferocity like Jack Bauer, but then he's simultaneously vacant like Jason Bourne. In short, he's an empty, grunting vessel.

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"XIII," which premieres tomorrow at 9 on Channel 7, is as uncompelling as its leading man. The miniseries, which concludes on Feb. 15, moves ahead quickly, and makes lots of noise - gunshots, explosions, skidding cars. But it's a hollow piece of work, with only a tad more character and spirit than a video game. Indeed, the 1980s comic series "XIII" became a video game in 2003, before this miniseries was filmed.

The story is set in a fictionalized United States shortly after the president - a woman - has been assassinated. Terrorism has ensued, political wrangling is afoot, and whoever was behind the shooting - thought to be a man with a "XIII" tattoo - is still on the loose. Meanwhile, a kindly couple in the South find a man in the woods with a "XIII" tattoo. But XIII (Dorff) has amnesia. He has only muddy flashbacks of the life he might have led, and no recollection at all of the president he might have killed.

XIII sets out to piece together his identity, following every tiny clue he can find. The clues drop into his lap, of course; the "XIII" script, like so many scripts based on comics, doesn't much bother with details or logic. Before you can scratch your head about that last nonsensical development, XIII is on the run again and there's no time for thinking. Close on his heels are a few obviously bad guys, including a man known as the Mongoose (Val Kilmer), and then a few more people who may or may not be bad guys. Like "24," "XIII" likes to keep us guessing about each character's true motives.

And like "24," what's at stake isn't just XIII's life, and the lives of those he knows. The safety of the entire country - nay, the entire world - is on the line. Whatever. "XIII" feels more like much ado about nothing, as characters die before we care about them and as the oh-so-major twists fail to blow our minds. It's the kind of story that asks you to either take off your thinking cap or be bored and indifferent.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

XIII Starring: Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff, Caterina Murino, Jessalyn Gilsig

On: NBC, Ch. 7

Time: Tomorrow, 9-11

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