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The Apocalypse Watch

Al Matthews is a name most people wouldn't recognize — but if you said "Bay 12, please," or "Assholes and elbows!" certain geeky types know those quotes came from Matthews' Sgt. Apone in James Cameron's classic Aliens (1986). Making the most of his short red-shirt screen time, Matthews breathed authority as one of the commanding officers of Cameron's Space Marines. It should come as no surprise that the actor was a soldier in real life; in fact, he was the first African-American field sergeant the U.S. Marines. And though he has appeared in some 18 films, this is the role that elevates Matthews into some kind of mini- fame (alongside memorable cult figures as "that guy who played Boba Fett," and "that gal who played Greedo"). Matthews' distinctive and robust voice is one of the small pleasures to be had from 1997's The Apocalypse Watch — a three-hour TV movie based on the Robert Ludlum book of the same name. Watch follows Harry Latham (John Shea), a CIA operative who's investigating recent terrorist attacks. He tracks down a chemical company run by what appear to be neo-Nazis, who catch Harry and stick a mind-controlling computer chip in his brain. Harry's brother Drew (Patrick Bergin) is also a CIA operative and has theories of the widespread action of the Nazi terrorists — but he's unable to prove them. The brothers get partnered with Karin De Vries (Virginia Madsen) — whose husband was supposedly killed by neo-Nazis — and the three search for more clues to the group's master plans. But when Harry fouls up his ops, it's up to the stalwart Drew and the mysterious Karin to butt heads with their C.O.s (including Matthews) to track down the nefarious villains before they complete their plan of poisoning Great Britain's water supply. Never mind that Nazis have become the most tired bogeymen in moviedom because no one's offended by picking on them; the biggest problem with Apocalypse Watch is that by being a tele-film, the story is stretched out to fill its running time. As in pretty much all TV movies, there's a great deal of narrative redundancy to compensate for long bathroom breaks, plus such padding as people taking an extra couple of seconds to get to a car, or watching a helicopter land, which mute the paranoia. Bergin struggles with his American accent the entire time, sounding like an awkward southerner — sort of — and the twists and turns are never gasp-inducing at the slow rate they're produced. It's fun to see Matthews if you're a die-hard Aliens fans, but otherwise, you're best steering clear. Artisan's DVD presents the film in full frame (1.33:1) as per its TV origins, and in 2.0 stereo. No extras. Keep-case.

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