Chameleon 2: Death Match (1999)

The “Chameleon” series is, I think, unique in movie circles for having each of its three installments be pilots for TV shows that never got made; not only that, but all three have no relation to each other, apart from the main character.

It’s curious, to compare this to shows that did get made – anyone remember “The Lost World”? “Cleopatra 2525”? “Relic Hunter”? “Lexx”? “Starhunter”? All mostly forgotten, cheap, genre TV, and “Chameleon” would have fit perfectly in that lineup. Although, just a year or so after part 3, both “Dark Angel” – very similar in terms of format – and “Alias” – one of my favourite shows of its time – would come to TV and prove there was a market for female led, slightly sci-fi-based, action spy shows.

But enough of me reminiscing about TV shows no-one cares about any more! It’s 2059, and corporations have taken over the American government. Standard stuff. The IBI is the new corporate police force, and they’re led by Casey Siemaszko, who is a fine actor but doesn’t exactly fit a person’s image of an action series lead. Casey is Jake, Bobbie Phillips returns as genetically engineered / slightly cyborg-y Kam, and there’s a whole team of people who’d supply all the useful technobabble and skills Kam doesn’t possess throughout the intended series.

It’s a “Die Hard” clone. No sense beating around the bush! A group of criminals infiltrates a futuristic casino and holds corporate bigwig Henry Kubica (John Waters, not “the” John Waters but an actor who looks like the bastard offspring of David Warner and Gerard Depardieu) and his son Tyler hostage, along with lots of other casino-goers; Kam is undercover in a tight dress, trying to keep Kubica safe. The only real differences are that Bruce Willis couldn’t turn himself invisible and didn’t have magic cyber-sight; and that Bruce was largely a solo act, and this is a team effort. But other than that, it’s got the endless corridors and cocky villains and a huge explosion happening in a lift shaft, you know, the classic building blocks of a ripoff of this sort.

Phillips is fine, again, but she’s weirdly emotionless in some scenes, like she was directed to play it like a robot. The thing is, her animal DNA ought to make her more emotional, not less? I think? When she’s showing her inner self a little, she’s excellent, but there’s not enough of it. Siemaszko is a comic actor, and is therefore horribly miscast as the lead agent; and everyone else is solidly dependable, like most TV actors.

It’s a little cheaper than part 1, with weaker special effects and a smaller focus, plus at least one of the special effects (the bike run through the warehouse full of bad agents) is a direct lift from the previous instalment. Also, everyone is greasy, like the makeup person didn’t have the right sort of powder to put on their faces, which you can handwave away by saying the building’s air conditioning was on the fritz. On the plus side, through, it’s got a meaningless title (there are no “death matches” of any sort) if you like that sort of thing.

There’s a scene at the end where they’re trying to evacuate the casino, and all that happens is people in the background run in random directions, constantly criss-crossing to get to…nowhere in particular. Which is, I guess, a perfect way to describe this movie. Much more than part 1, this screams out “TV pilot”, and while I enjoyed it more (better focused, for one) I just wish they’d either made it a proper movie or that it had been picked up.

Fingers crossed that part 3 is a bit different, and hope that the ISCFC doesn’t have to review any more Die Hard ripoffs for a while.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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