Chameleon (1998)

“Pilots that crashed” is our wildly unpopular regular feature here at the ISCFC where we review a “TV movie” which is nothing more than the pilot for a TV show that failed for whatever reason; the reason we get to see it, is they spent enough money on it they feel obliged to try and recoup some of their losses by bunging it on TV, or selling it abroad. Our favourite of the ones we’ve covered so far is “Virtuality”, the Ronald D Moore effort from 2009 where inhabitants of a corporate-sponsored trip to deep space have their own virtual reality machines to stave off the boredom, but will this knock it off its perch?

Starring as cloned genetically engineered badass Kam is Bobbie Philips, who’s fast becoming a favourite here. We’ve covered her early career, where she had the great misfortune of co-starring with Billy Blanks twice (“TC 2000” and “Back In Action”); she went on to be great in “Murder One”, then bummed around in all sorts of trash for a few years before abruptly quitting acting in 2004 to go into the hotel business with her husband. Respect to people who don’t hang around when they aren’t enjoying it any more; but she decided to get back into acting a couple of years ago and is picking some really interesting-sounding projects.

We’re in a fairly standard dystopian future, where the IBI is the last line of crime-fighting defence. I guess most of the people who work there are standard humans, but one or two of them are grown in labs (I think, the movie is a little vague on the details) and have super-senses as well as being pretty strong. Kam calls herself a “sub”, although just what that means, aside from being prepared to have sex with anyone to progress a case, is never mentioned. Kam’s special ability that no-one else seems to have is the title of the movie – she can turn sort-of invisible by blending perfectly into the background, “Predator” style.

A kid is the driving force of the plot. Oh, how I loathe child actors! Even if you’re a parent with a kid of your own, surely you wouldn’t enjoy seeing someone else’s stupid kid on screen? Yet because writers can’t be bothered to figure out how to create tension properly, we get a kid who everyone knows won’t die.

Sorry, the kid. His parents are rebels against the corporate system, and create a computer chip which will destroy the world’s economy in a matter of days. The IBI wants it, so they send Kam and a team of armed police to sort them out – but the parents kill themselves rather than be caught, and the kid escapes with the last chip secreted on his person somewhere. Kam goes after him but immediately changes from being a cold-blooded killer to a warm mothering type, protecting the kid, getting kicked out of the IBI, getting chased herself, etc.

You may have noticed that only a few paragraphs in, I’ve complained several times about things not being explained, or being too vague. Well, part of it probably comes from being a pilot, because you’ll need some secrets to explore later in the season; but an equal amount could come from it just not being very good (perhaps the reason it was never picked up). The worst of all is Kam’s sudden conversion to the side of the good guys, with zero explanation, to the stage where I stopped the video and rewound to see if there was something I’d missed. When you’re supposed to be won over by her mothering instinct, you’re probably more likely to be going “she’s in her late 20s and he’s in his early teens, he doesn’t need that much looking after”.

Kam and the stupid kid are chased by a rogue former IBI agent (who was kicked out for being too violent) who chases them with a couple of rottweilers and a redheaded IBI lady, who was clearly being set up to be the workplace antagonist. They’re trying to get to Newton, the leader of the resistance (I think), who ends up being nothing more than a boring philosopher who talks in the thir person. But never mind him!

There are a couple of cool-ish fight scenes, as well as a scene in a huge empty warehouse that felt more like a stunt showcase than it did a logical piece of filmmaking. Phillips is great and looks like she can handle herself (the promotional blurb lists her as a martial arts expert, but she doesn’t really do much of that). And some of the visuals of the wasteland outside the cities are done well too, even if they’re sort of standard.

Ultimately, it’s very standard stuff. Super-powered hero, kid in peril, dystopian future. I like Phillips a lot but she’s not got a lot to work with here, and if you were thinking of watching it for purposes of titilation, the sex scenes are shot from some pretty bizarre angles, to make sure you see as little skin as possible. It appears there are two more “Chameleon” movies to go, as well – amazingly, they’re all pilots with the same star as the same character, and all three failed! If you do choose to watch this, though, you can ponder just how many shows that look and feel roughly the same were made around the time, and why some of them succeeded (“The Lost World”, “Relic Hunter”, etc.) and this failed.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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