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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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

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

Youtube Film Club – TC 2000 (1993)

The birthday haul

The birthday haul, top middle

By gum, there’s a lot of fighting in this film. Just when you think some plot is going to break out, someone runs into someone else and there’s a flurry of punches and kicks. This film has more fighting than the previous record holder, “Hey, Everyone, Let’s Fight For A Really Long Time” (1973, USA).

I’d give you the plot, but it seems sort of pointless. Oh, go on then. There’s been an environmental apocalypse, and most of the survivors have been forced underground. There are a few people still living on the surface, and most of the people we see are baddies, the street gang “The Picassos”. Underground, we’ve got two good cops, Jason Storm and Zoey Kinsella (Billy “Tae Bo” Blanks and 90s queen Bobbie Phillips), and a bunch of evil cops who want to…god knows. Kill everyone on the surface, I think. Zoey dies and gets transformed into a robotic evil super-cop, Jason quits the force and goes topside, and there meets good guy Bolo Yeung who trains him and finds a bunch of guys to help him stop the evil cops and the Picassos at the same time.

That’s pretty much it in terms of plot. You won’t watch this film and go “dammit Mark! Why didn’t you tell me about the weird tower that they can turn on and it’ll heal the world’s atmosphere?” You will watch this film and enjoy an absolute ton of fighting, though. Everyone in this film can fight. The random hoboes that approach Jason can kick ass, and with virtually no guns in this world, all the cops are amazing martial artists too.

Zoey is turned into a TC2000X, which is an upgrade from the normal stuff the cops get, which is TC2000. She’s part-robot, and in no way does this feel like “Robocop” at all. Fortunately, while kicking ass and being an awesome robot cop she gets to keep wearing her high heels…apart from the stuff her stunt-double does, which being shown in slow motion gives you ample opportunity to see her wearing flats. Considering the incredible high-pitch of sexism that runs through so many movies, this barely registers, which is sad. What isn’t sad is Bolo Yeung as the surprise good guy. He’s so evil-looking that I think after he beats you up, he finds out where you live and then goes and beats your family up, just because – but in this film he’s the mentor, trainer and friend to Jason, and he seems to relish being a good guy for once.

I don’t think Billy Blanks relished anything, or hated anything. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to tell from his face BECAUSE HE’S A TERRIBLE ACTOR DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE He clearly wasn’t hired because he’s a regular when it comes to Oscar nominations. He does get one sweet comeback though, when one of the baddies goes “Time to die” and he replies “time to get a new watch” before knocking him out.

All these guys pale into insignificance, though, next to my favourite guy in the film. Bolo and Jason are getting their gang together, and most of them look like pretty badass guys, except for one man, who I’m going to give a superhero name, Middle-Aged Man Man. MAMM for short is just a guy who looks like he wandered into the training area on his office job’s lunch hour and decided to join in, and sadly he’s one of the first to die. But Middle-Aged Man Man, we salute you.

GREAT POWER

GREAT POWER

So, in conclusion, if you really liked “Project Shadowchaser 3” and see the DVD with this film on it too, then it might be worth a watch – or, if you’re on some weird monomaniacal mission to watch every sci-fi kung-fu film ever made (which, thinking about it, probably wouldn’t take you that long). Anyway, might as well give it a miss.

Rating: thumbs down