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'E-Ring' fails to gowhere the action is

''We are America," Dennis Hopper says in tonight's premiere of ''E-Ring." ''We can do anything we want." And that's the gist of this new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action drama, which is set in the Pentagon E-Ring, where the most important government decisions are made. When Hopper's Colonel McNulty and Benjamin Bratt's Major Tisnewski put their thinking caps on, they can work miracles anywhere on the planet.

Not that McNulty and Tisnewski play by the rules. The new Special Ops co-workers are mavericks who dodge national bureaucracy to get what they want. At 9 p.m. on Channel 4, they finagle a way to rescue an American spy in Shanghai, and without even leaving their high-ceilinged offices. Everything they do, it seems, is against all odds, not to mention just in the nick of time and always in the name of patriotism.

Unfortunately, despite an interesting pair of lead actors, ''E-Ring" is stubbornly conventional and bland. It exists simply to reinforce images of American indestructibility while trying to pick up now-bereft fans of ''JAG." The plots go exactly where you expect, with lots of tedious office-hopping, screen-watching, and inter-building negotiating along the way. For an action series, it's oddly static and claustrophobic.

There's also something old-fashioned about ''E-Ring." It seems to ignore the political complications in the stories it spins, focusing solely on the more generic rescue angles. In this day of 24/7 news coverage, a show that completely ignores international realities runs the risk of seeming out to lunch. That kind of evasion tends only to work well on an intentionally cartoonish show like ''Alias."

Bratt is enjoyable enough as a handsome bundle of smug energy, the kind of guy who whistles the theme song to ''Get Smart" while passing through Pentagon security doors. His Tisnewski is smirky and cocky, and he tends to alienate people until they realize he's one of the good guys. A former Green Beret, he's also a bit of a womanizer. Indeed, the original pilot, in which he was married (to Sarah Clarke of ''24"), was reshot in order to free him up for romantic interludes.

McNulty is less engaging, even while he's played by the always vivid Hopper. He's amusingly temperamental and listens to blaring rock music, but his ''Easy Rider" thing is merely superficial. He's more of a familiar government hero, the kind whose bark is worse than his bite. Like so much about ''E-Ring," he's just too ordinary for our own good.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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