Borrowing liberally from his own “Jaws” and “The Beast,” “Creature From the Black Lagoon” and even “Day of the Dolphin,” “Peter Benchley’s Creature” pollutes the beautiful Caribbean in which it was shot. Derivative and predictable, with a creature that’s not very scary, ABC “microseries” status won’t save it from sinking in NBC’s sweeps wake.Part I begins in 1972 in a secret Navy base off St. Lucia, where naval researchers have created a hybrid: a dolphin crossed with a great white shark. A sholphin? Great white dark? In any case, the Navy wants to turn the man-eating Flipper loose in the rice paddy fields of Vietnam. Hey, it’s cleaner than napalm. But the researchers went a little too far and created a new species, one with such a bad attitude that it would stop neither at commies nor Southeast Asia. Naturally, the Navy covers it up. Flash forward 25 years, and scientist Simon Chase (Craig T. Nelson) has taken over the island with his scientist ex-wife (Kim Cattrall) and 15-year-old son, Max (Matthew Carey), and a cute pet sea lion. He’s researching the connection between cancer and sharks. Soon, islanders are being eaten and Nelson, ex-wife, son and crazy native Giancarlo Esposito are left to get to the bottom of the mystery creature with a taste for local cuisine. Only one guess as to what happened to the sea lion. The heavy-handed pace of “Creature” can partly be blamed on the miniseries format — and this two-parter stretches the definition for sweeps’ sake. But the rest of the blame can be laid at the feet of director Stuart Gillard, who wastes so much time on reaction shots and footage of Nelson’s boats flying over the ocean that momentum never builds. Even when the creature attacks, it’s snoozeville. Rockne S. O’Bannon’s script is full of banalities, while the plotting jumps around like a fish out of water. Characters are as transparent as the water surrounding the island. Nelson, Cattrall and Cress Williams (Nelson’s first mate/shark bait) try to act out of the paper bag they’re put in, but ultimately, the actors must view this exercise as a free trip to St. Lucia. Giancarlo Esposito is intense, as always, and believably crazy. Stan Winston’s creature is certainly imaginative, even if it sometimes looks like a guy in an amphibian suit.
Horror miniseries; ABC, Sun. May 17 and Mon. May 18, 9 p.m.
Filmed in St. Lucia, West Indies and Vancouver, B.C., by MGM Television in association with Trilogy Entertainment. Executive producers, Robert Halmi Jr., Richard Barton Lewis, Pen Densham, John Watson, Mark Stern; producer, Brent Karl Clackson; director, Stuart Gillard; writer, Rockne S. O'Bannon, based on the novel by Peter Benchley.
Simon Chase - Craig T. Nelson Amanda Macy -Kim Cattrall Admiral Aaron Richland - Colm Feore Tall Man - Cress Williams Adam Puckett - Michael Reilly Burke Tauna - Michael Michele Max - Matthew Carey Elizabeth - Megalyn Echikunwoke Rollie Gibson - Blue Mankuma Ben Madiera - John Aylward Thomas Peniston/ Werewolf Giancarlo Esposito
Camera, Thomas Burstyn; creature effects, Stan Winston; editor, Rich Martin; production design, Stan Joy; music, John Van Tongeren; sound, James Kusan; casting, Susan Bluestein, Stuart Aikins. 4 HOURS
Data provided by:Nielsen Media Research (Preliminary Results)