Review: ‘Mantis’

Asuperhero who stuns evildoers and leaves a mummified praying mantis insect as a calling card may sound like the latest Saturday morning cartoon tied in with an action figure. But "MANTIS"-- an acronym for Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter System -- is an all-too-serious, lethargic romp that borrows heavily from every genre imaginable.

Asuperhero who stuns evildoers and leaves a mummified praying mantis insect as a calling card may sound like the latest Saturday morning cartoon tied in with an action figure. But “MANTIS”– an acronym for Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter System — is an all-too-serious, lethargic romp that borrows heavily from every genre imaginable.

Mixing themes from “Darkman,””The Six Million Dollar Man,””Shaft” and a low-budget “Broadcast News,” the two-hour Fox telepic has all the earmarks of a direct-to-video B movie.

Surprisingly, two of the three exec producers — Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert — offer little of the wit and solid story structure they brought to “Darkman.” The result may let down viewers attracted to the telefilm by the pair’s names.

Action sequences are too infrequent to sustain interest, and scripter Sam Hamm (who had a hand in writing both “Batman” pix and serves as the third exec producer) exacerbates the snail’s pace with preachy, message-heavy dialogue.

Perf by Carl Lumbly as the program’s central character, Dr. Miles Hawkins, is the glue that holds this otherwise wobbly presentation together. But Lumbly’s ease in the role may cause some viewers to scratch their heads wondering if pic is a serious drama or a farcical takeoff on the superhero, crime-fighting genre.

Supporting players do not fare as well, most notably Gina Torres as Dr. Amy Ellis, the unflappable, headstrong pathologist of fictional locale Ocean City. She is given the unenviable task of driving the story as she tries to discover the source of numbing nerve gas.

And those wearing the white hats are ultimately revealed as no-gooders, in a plot device that has so little to do with the story, its inclusion is a distraction.

Attempts to spark interest with effects-laden chase scenes and with MANTIS’ vehicle, a flying, swimming, high-speed Batjet-like contraption — which one pursuer describes as a “’57 Caddy with a hell of an options package,” illustrating in one sentence the story’s pervasive inane dialogue — does little to advance the story or suck viewers in.

Eric Laneuville and d.p. William Dill deserve a hearty handshake for combining their extensive talents to deliver a visually interesting program, but the flash far outweighs the substance and may cause some viewers to wish they caught “Murphy Brown” instead.

Mantis

(Mon. (24), 8-10 p.m., Fox)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Wilbur Force Prods. and Renaissance Pictures in association with Universal Television. Executive producers, Sam Hamm, Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert; producers, David Eick, Steve Ecclesine; director, Eric Laneuville; script, Hamm; story, Raimi, Hamm.

Crew

Camera, William Dill; editor, Steve Polivka; production design, Mick Strawn; sound, Russell Williams; visual effects, Stargate Films; music, Joseph Lo Duca.

Cast

Cast: Carl Lumbly, Bobby Hosea, Gina Torres, Steve James, Obba Babatunde, Marcia Cross, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Christopher M. Brown, Phillip Baker Hall, Ivonne Farrow, Francis X. McCarthy, Alan Fudge, Grant Heslov, Louis Ramos, Billy Kane, Jeremiah Birkett, Dex Elliot Sanders, Theo Forsett, Jerry Black, Larron Tate, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Tierre Turner, Martin Davis, Kimble Jemison, David Fresco, Edwina Moore, Charles Hoyes, Lucy Lin, Ossaun Elam, Richard Jones, Dane Winters, Nelson Parks, Martin Cassidy, Steve Hom, Jermaine Shoulders, Mark Phelan, Gene Arrington, Richard Zobel, Mark Avery, Robair Sims, Craig Hosking.
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