LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Those who tune in to Thursday's premiere of "The Beast" on A&E for purely macabre reasons (i.e. looking to get a glimpse of a man wasting away before their eyes) will come away disappointed.
Patrick Swayze may be battling pancreatic cancer, but you wouldn't know it to observe the actor's powerful performance as a loose-cannon undercover FBI agent in what is otherwise a fairly standard-issue cop drama.
As for that bracing performance by Swayze, forget about "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" and think Dirty Harry. Playing a fed who is out of control, his performance here is edgy, disturbing and all-involving. Even at its most contrived, "The Beast" works far better than last year's homegrown A&E hour "The Cleaner," with Benjamin Bratt.
Swayze's manic, seemingly suicidal Charles Barker has just taken on a handpicked new partner with the colorful name of Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmel of the short-lived 2003 WB series "Tarzan"), whom Barker takes great pleasure in hazing. This instantly turns Dove into a nervous wreck and wreaks havoc on his dating life.
Then there are the FBI internal affairs folks who enlist Dove to clandestinely rein in Barker -- whom they "suspect" might have gone rogue.
This is where the series seems to suffer: there's no real ambiguity as to what's up with Barker. He's actually using a missile launcher to try to entrap the bad guys. Barker seems to be so undercover that he doesn't even know where the covers are anymore. And that leaves the audience feeling a little uneasy and confused.
"Beast" has a far grittier feel and look than one would suspect from a show starring Swayze -- not to mention one on A&E. The action often is energetic and intriguing but is sometimes brought down by Fimmel's uneven performance. The rest of the supporting cast acquits itself well, and Swayze manages to bring the words of scribes Vincent Angell and William L. Rotko to menacing life.
Again, there is nothing terribly special about the execution of the drama or its premise in the opening pair of episodes.
What's unmistakable is the killer work of the star. You won't recognize Swayze, but not for the reasons you think. His physical appearance, whether due to sheer will or the creative use of makeup and lighting (or both), is just fine. And his energy level, too, indicates little but vigor.
The truth is we've rarely seen a human being face down a profound illness like Swayze does as he goes through his paces in "The Beast." Trite though it may sound, knowing what we know, it's truly an inspiration. May the man somehow beat the odds and fight defiantly on.