Comicbooks and -strips have survived their share of camp treatment over the years, though producers’ willingness to take such material seriously has improved markedly since Dino De Laurentiis’ misguided whack at “Flash Gordon” in 1980, which remains most memorable for its Queen theme. Yet Sci Fi Channel’s contemporized series mostly ignores the intervening quarter century, serving up a 90-minute premiere replete with playful if dimwitted banter, dimension-breaching nonsense, and a cast seemingly plucked from Revlon commercials. Nostalgia might win out, but barring a last-minute rescue, this bit of fluff will be forgotten in a you-know-what.
Nicknamed Flash for his fleet-footed ways, Steve Gordon (Eric Johnson, perhaps best known for a supporting gig on “Smallville”) is living at home with his widowed mom when college girlfriend Dale Harden (Gina Holden) — now a TV reporter — pops back into his life, albeit wearing an engagement ring.
Some strange doings involving what cynical Dale presumes to be “faliens” (as in “fake aliens”) quickly ensue, and Flash soon meets the nerdy Dr. Hans Zarkov (Jody Racicot), a former assistant to Flash’s father, who disappeared through a space portal thingamajig years ago and, it turns out, might not really be dead.
Around the halfway point, Flash and Dale penetrate said vortex, encountering the planet Mongo, which looks a helluva lot like Vancouver with a little CGI thrown in. (To be fair, f/x on the screener provided were incomplete, but much of the action takes place outside amid inexpensive Canadian greenery.)
Flash begins to intuit that Mongo and its leader Ming (John Ralston, stripping the character of his customary Fu Manchu resemblance) might not be benevolent, leading to the inevitable torture, escape and stilted intergalactic dialogue. In fact, Peter Hume’s adaptation beams into the realm of Sillyville around the time Mongo comes into the picture, and can’t seem to find its way out.
The chemistry between Flash and Dale seems marginal at best, and aside from looking the part physically, Johnson doesn’t convey much sense of heroic potential, even if seeing this ordinary Steve fumble his way into and out of danger is ostensibly part of the fun.
The second and third episodes, meanwhile, suggest a sort-of “X-Files” structure, with Flash, Dale and Zarkov policing threats-of-the-week from Mongo, while one escapee to Earth provides comic relief by trying to adjust to our strange ways.
Fortunately for Sci Fi, beyond a core of loyalists, the target younger demos should have relatively little investment in this 70-year-old property, theoretically banishing any comparisons to Buster Crabbe and allowing the series to stand or fall on its own.
So far, however, even in this sporty new vehicle the old codger looks a little unsteady on his pins — lacking the requisite wit, excitement or sense of adventure to survive for long in this dimension, much less the next.