Chameleon 3: Dark Angel (2000)

Welcome to yet another instalment in our “pilots that crashed” series of reviews, which always get strong reactions from readers. Such as “why are you doing this?” and “are there not enough normal movies to review?”

“Chameleon” is unique in that all three parts of its trilogy are pilots, none of which were picked up. The only things the three movies have in common are:

  • Kam – played by Bobbie Phillips, she’s a “sub”, or “substitute human”. She has a small amount of animal DNA which gives her unique powers, although the exact amount changes from movie to movie (1% in part 2, 20% in this one).
  • The IBI – the crime-fighting organisation she works for. They’re occasionally bad guys, though, so the name is the only thing.
  • Sort of vague near-future setting

That’s it. One can look at the “Chameleon” series as what might happen if you gave three different scriptwriters those bullet points and no other information; it’s a shame, as it would’ve been nice if they’d built on the things that worked in the previous movies. But they were no doubt too busy desperately trying to get these pilots picked up to worry about anything as inconvenient as making them good.

We start off with an opening credits sequence straight out of a TV show – Phillips voice-over describes the world and herself, while clips from the action we’re about to see play. Do you not want to leave stuff for us to discover? There’s a reason movies don’t do this! We do discover, though, that she has the DNA from three specific animals – cougar, for…er…I got nothing; falcon, for the eyesight; and, of course, chameleon for the invisibility thing. We meet another sub later on who has three different animal powers, which conjures up the image of scientists with a bunch of labelled jars in front of them, picking three at random and injecting them into an egg.

The majority of the movie appears to be a cliché delivery system. Her boss tells Kam “you’re a wild card!”, the bad guy shoots one of his underlings for giving him bad news, people get taken off cases, someone does that thing where they keep getting closer to someone holding a gun on them til they’re able to kick it out of their hand, the whole set.

It’s not entirely cliché, though. A group of scientists, including 15 year old prodigy Tess (Teal Redmann) are doing some experiments with dark matter, and one of them, Dr Farrow, is actually working for the bad guys. Farrow might be the dumbest scientist in the history of science – my notes read “he’s not got any idea what he’s talking about” – but he’s not around for very long. There’s Kam and Tess, with occasional help from the rest of the IBI, against villains who have their own evil, super-powerful sub, who – not a spoiler because it’s the first line of the IMDB synopsis – is Kam’s brother.

First up, kudos to “Chameleon 3” (which, by the way, is subtitled “Dark Angel”, perhaps a trifle too close to the same year’s TV show “Dark Angel”, the Jessica Alba show) for predicting the future with its smart-watches. People do video calls on them, and I’m pretty sure we’re about a year or two from that happening to us. But the rest of the future is just the odd bit of tech here and there, with the rest of the world being identical to the one we have now.

Unfortunately, though, part 3 is just a catalogue of things that don’t work very well, or look stupid, or both. All the goons in one scene and one scene only wear balaclavas, as if they could only afford three extras and just kept recycling them; and the fight scenes are terribly shot, leaving what should be the most exciting parts of the movie just annoying to the eyes. They also throw in the “is that guy indestructible or are all these people just terrible shots?” conundrum.

There’s a romantic subplot between Kam and her IBI “handler”, Ben, but he alternates between seeing her as a machine to use as he likes, and a real woman with thoughts and feelings (“subs” can have their human status revoked at any moment, apparently). Plus, if you’re a straight man and can’t act more excited to be in bed next to Bobbie Phillips, then you’re not that good an actor – if you, the viewer, are a fan of extremely attractive women in tight leather outfits, then you’re in luck though.

There are two fairly large problems with “Chameleon 3”, though. First up is the weakness of the supporting cast, as they might as well just be a grey cloud that hovers around the background of about a third of the scenes. If they’d wanted it to go to series as much as they desperately appeared to, then this is a red flag, really. Second is the lack of use of her powers. She does the chameleon thing once, something which might be the falcon thing once, and I don’t think she uses cougar powers at all (although that might be a smell thing?) If you’re making a pilot epoisode about a woman with super-powers, then it might be handy to show her using those powers, build up a bit of interest in her, and so on. Or maybe that’s just me.

Oh, and the science is terrible and nonsensical as well – dark matter, black holes, unlimited power, and so on. But that’s small potatoes. Probably the weakest of the three (part 2 is the only one I’d have been interested in seeing taken to series), Phillips is far and away the most interesting thing about it and I’m annoyed she didn’t get a starring vehicle, as she has a great action hero look and clearly got the memo about bothering to show emotion. Three interesting failures, sadly.

Rating: thumbs down

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