Librarian Flynn Carsen might be the most mild-mannered action hero in TV history, but he always manages to get the job done - the job, of course, being to attract millions of viewers for the made-for-television movies in which he's featured on cable network TNT.
The network will premiere the latest installment of its immensely popular Librarian franchise at 8 p.m. tomorrow, again starring ER alumnus Noah Wyle in the role of Carsen. The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice is the third movie in the series, which began in 2004 with The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. That first installment drew 7 million viewers and ranked as ad-supported cable's No. 1 original movie of the year.
Next up, in 2006, came The Librarian: Return to Solomon's Mines, which had 6.2 million viewers, making it cable's No. 1 original sequel of all time and one of the top-rated movie telecasts of that year.
In Judas Chalice, not much has changed. Carsen is still the brainy but affable librarian at New York City's Metropolitan Library, a very odd place whose cavernous hidden basement is a repository of humanity's greatest secrets. Among its inventory are Pandora's Box, Noah's Ark, the Fountain of Youth, the sword Excalibur (which the pathetic loner Carsen admits is his best friend), and dozens of other items that most people believe exist only in myth and legend.
Carsen's curator boss is still wonderfully played with droll, stammering earnestness by Bob Newhart, while Jane Curtin reprises her role as the museum's prickly personnel chief, whose greatest satisfaction comes from giving Carsen grief about his unauthorized expenses.
And he racks up plenty of those during his exotic and dangerous missions around the world, where his job is to track down still more mystical relics of antiquity before sinister treasure hunters grab them.
If this sounds remarkably similar to a certain other book-reading, globe-trotting scholar, well, it's no surprise that some have referred to The Librarian and its lead character as "Indiana Jones Lite." But so what? There are enough Saturday matinee adventures to go around, aren't there?
And besides, Flynn Carsen is not exactly an Indiana Jones clone. Where Harrison Ford's world-weary Indy is tough, resourceful, and a bit of a whip-cracking swashbuckler at times, Flynn is just a good-natured nerd who, given the chance, would run from a fight nearly every time.
The latest Librarian tale finds a burned-out Carsen trying to kick back during a vacation in New Orleans. But when he crosses paths with a beautiful jazz singer (exotic Stana Katic) with a dark secret, things start to get a little weird. The singer has made it her mission to protect a sacred artifact called the Judas Chalice or die trying.
The chalice is said to have been crafted from the 30 pieces of silver that Judas Iscariot received for his betrayal of
Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago. It supposedly has the power to restore full life to the undead, which makes it a tantalizing prize for a bunch of former KGB men who hope to use it to gain world domination.
Also on the trail of the cup is a mysterious professor (Bruce Davison) from Bucharest who thinks the artifact can resurrect the infamous Prince Vlad Dracul, the world's first vampire, and cast the world into darkness.
Naturally, Flynn falls into the middle of all this, and with the help of his sexy sidekick, he winds up dodging Russian thugs, vampires, and other assorted baddies over the course of the two-hour movie.
Curse of the Judas Chalice is in little danger of being mistaken for serious cinema - the movie's plot is as thin as its cheesy special effects - but it has no real pretensions in that direction. It's a lighthearted popcorn flick, plain and simple, and kind of a silly one at that.
At one point, when a sword-wielding villain knocks the head off a statue while chasing Flynn, our hero pauses to note that the statue is "18th-century Korean," whereupon the pursuer utters a heartfelt "Sorry!" before continuing the chase.
Judas Chalice is not quite as family-friendly as the two previous movies in the Librarian series. There's no rough language here, and very little graphic violence, but Flynn does manage to hook up with the sexy jazz singer, even though most of the romance takes place discreetly off screen.
Like the other installments in the Librarian franchise, what makes this one work is mostly Wyle's great likeability and deft comic touch. If Judas Chalice grabs anywhere near the ratings of its predecessors - and there's little reason to think it won't - then we can probably look forward to seeing Flynn Carsen bumbling his way through another fast-paced but lightweight adventure come 2010.
And that's not bad news, because these Librarian movies are as good a way as any to spend a Saturday afternoon - oops, I mean a Sunday evening.