‘Rabbit Hole’ Review: Kiefer Sutherland … in ‘Mission Impossible’?

After a premiere eerily reminiscent of another popular Paramount property, Kiefer Sutherland reaches into the winding labyrinth of espionage as promised.

Brian de Palma’s “Mission: Impossible,” the first film in Paramount’s ongoing action franchise, opens with a scam within a scam. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are sent to retrieve some dangerous doodad or other, only to see the operation go very, very wrong. People die. Hunt was branded a traitor. It’s only after a confrontation with the man sent to get him—and some very fast running (that’s the only way Cruise knows)—that he manages to escape. Then it’s up to you to determine exactly who betrayed you, why, and how to clear your name.

Why am I bringing up a 1996 movie in a review of a TV show debuting in 2023? For no reason. Let’s talk about “Rabbit Hole,” the first season of Paramount’s new action series that begins with a scam within a scam. John Weir (Kiefer Sutherland) and his team are hired to take on one big case at a time, but the operation goes very, very wrong. People die. He brands Weir a traitor. Only after confronting the man who set him up—and a very arduous run (Sutherland can only do so)—does he manage to escape. Then it’s up to you to determine exactly who betrayed you, why, and how to clear your name.

To be fair, it’s a pretty standard setup for a spy thriller. But even if “Mission: Impossible” doesn’t come to mind while watching the “Rabbit Hole” premiere — I mean, Sutherland is meant to appeal to the “24” fanbase — De Palma’s meticulous, emotional approach to the template highlights what’s missing. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra’s ‘Rabbit Hole’ series does a great job of going through the motions, but it never feels like it’s invested enough in its characters to stand out from the crowd.

For some viewers, that might be enough. Since 24, Sutherland has had great success with action thrillers like ‘Designated Survivor’, ‘The Fugitive’ (2020) and various films. Neither could match the rush of a real-time ticking clock, but there’s clearly an audience out there to see the former Jack Bauer dig his way out of an impossible scenario.

RABBIT HOLE - 103 - Algorithms of Control - Charles dances as Ben Wilson in the Paramount+ series Rabbit Hole.  Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount+ © 2022 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved.

Charles Dance in the “Rabbit Hole”

Courtesy of Marni Grossman / Paramount+

In “Rabbit Hole,” his dire circumstances begin in a confessional where a distraught Peter Weir tells the priest that he needs someone to listen to him, and if that someone is God, all the better. “Maybe you can tell me what the hell is going on,” says Weir, before we jump back in time three weeks. Weir runs his own corporate espionage business and things are going pretty well. He’s making a quick buck (well, a few million dollars) for conning a dickish Wall Street dude into a bad investment, and sleeping with a beautiful woman in the process.

The next day, when he wakes up with Hailey (Meta Golding), paranoia seems to set in: Weir claims to have found a camera in her hotel room and accuses her of blackmailing him. Before he knows what’s going on, Weir is gone—back to the office, back to his life, as sure of his claims as he is that Hailey has nothing anyway.

But then really strange things start to happen. Weir has had nightmares since childhood. Soon to follow. And when an old friend (Jason Butler Harner) hires him to perform a cape-twisting operation, the seemingly smooth execution suddenly blows up in his face.

“Rabbit Hole” is pretty smooth when it comes to every single friction, and self-aware enough to have a little fun along the way. Sutherland can play a smart hero in his sleep, and he seems to enjoy cheeky banter and the returning hero of the Boomer generation. (Weir takes his prescriptions with a glass of whiskey, pays only cash, and hates the Internet.) The scripts (by Requa and Ficarra, who also direct) are mostly serviceable, but there are a few surprises amid the routine. fare. (After a stock-rescue scene, Weir gets called out for casual racism — who he just saved — and I have to respect that. They worked in the charge instead of just rewriting the scene.)

As a mindless diversion, “Rabbit Hole” goes pretty easy. The twists may not always land with gravity, but the sheer numbers keep you guessing at least as much as Weir (without the dire consequences). If the series weren’t so brazenly reminiscent of better spy fare — or if it looked a little better when playing the old hits — the eight-episode first season might be a worthy investment. Instead, I suggest you revisit the classics. From the sophisticated storytelling to the plot-driven characters, there’s a reason why they’ve stood the test of time—and still stand the test of time after all these years.

grade: C

“Rabbit Hole” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Festival on Sunday, March 12th. The series debuts Sunday, March 26 with two episodes on Paramount+. New episodes are released weekly.

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