Lightspeed (2006) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence and some disturbing images
Running Time: 88 min.

Cast: Jason Connery, Daniel Goddard, Nicole Eggert, Lee Majors, K.C. Clyde,
Director: Don E. FauntLeRoy
Screenplay: John Gray, Steve Latshaw

As an avid fan of movies and comic books, I decided some time ago that I would attempt to watch as many films about superheroes as I could find. Little did I realize what a foolish undertaking this would be, as I have been subjected to some truly atrocious movies – Batman and Robin, Superman III and IV, Zoom, and The Punisher – perhaps some cheapie, independent releases that are even worse (Roger Corman's version of The Fantastic Four comes to mind). As quixotic as my determination has been, perhaps even detrimental to my sanity, there has been no movie to date that actually had me question the merits of continuing to pursue this mad quest – until now.

Lightspeed was made as a Sci Fi Channel original movie, and if you know the reputation of those sorts of films, you’ll know it probably fits in with the rest of them – cheesy, low-budget, and flat-out bad. Seeing such “luminaries” as Jason Connery (Night Skies, Shanghai Noon), Nicole Eggert (Blown Away, "Baywatch") , and Lee Majors (Out Cold, Will Penny) in the cast of characters, you can also guess how much emphasis on quality the makers of the film were shooting for. Still, Stan Lee’s name was above the title, so I still held out hope that, by some small miracle, a watchable film could actually result.

Then I remembered that Stan Lee, for all of his prodigious creations in the world of superhero comics, hasn’t been much of a creative force for the past few decades. I will forever respect him for pioneering a great many things, but the thing I respect him most for is that he was willing to put down his pen when the time was right and let others who were more in touch with the maturing taste of the public take over. Unfortunately, now that Stan has started his own company, POW! (Purveyors of Wonder), he is back in the business of being a creator again, and while comic books and films about them have progressed into realms of entertainment for people ranging in age from 6 to 60, Stan’s writing is still stuck in the 1960s. Still, Stan only came up with the basic concept behind Lightspeed, he didn’t have much to do with the script and direction. Perhaps someone could take a lame concept and make it work?

The plot of the film revolves around Daniel Leight (Connery), a special agent (of the “Ghost Squad”) who is hospitalized after a terrorist attack from a ruthless criminal known simply as Python (Goddard, Dream Warrior). Leight believes that Python may actually be a former associate, Edward, who had been developing a means of skin regeneration to help burn victims using the DNA of snakes in human tissue. Edward wanted to use this research to help his ailing girlfriend, a victim of a car accident that left her burned from head to toe and comatose, but the government pulls the plug on the project, and she passes away. In an act of despair, Edward decides to trash his lab, starting his own fire in the process – he is thought to have died in the fire, but somehow he was able to live using his own research.

While Leight recovers from his wounds, Edward sabotages his treatment, subjecting him to a mass amount of radiation in his crotch area.  No noticeable change takes place until Leight starts to walk, and then he suddenly discovers he has developed ultra-human power in his legs that allow him to run fast – very, very fast. With his newfound power, Leight decides to adopt a new look, using sports gear to help with the damaging effects of great speeds on his skin, and once he harnesses his power, he seeks to use his skills to put an end to Python’s diabolical plan to destroy Washington DC.

The problems with Lightspeed are multitudinous, so for the purpose of brevity, I’ll stick with some of the major ones. Although Stan Lee came up with the original concept behind the hero and villain of the film, his ideas are just too antiquated in today’s world of superheroes to pass the snicker test -- no surprise, Lee turned 84 years old just before the time of this film's release. Lightspeed, as Leight’s superhero alter ego comes to be known in the media, not only has one of the least "cool" superpowers ever (he can run really fast), but it has been done before, by DC with “The Flash” and Marvel with “Quicksilver”, to name but two of the more popular ones. Still, even if the powers were unique, the special effects, which is basically little more than sped-up action, are far from effective. Watching the foot chases on “The Benny Hill Show” are more convincing.

Equally snicker-inducing is the terrible costume donned by Leight, as is the contrived way it comes about. Leight walks into a sporting goods store and claims he is trying to break the land speed record, needing clothing that can withstand the wind and velocity factors. It just so happens that the guy he asks knows of JUST the thing: a special suit that they have in the back that also happens to look like something a superhero might wear. He also, conveniently, gives him a mask and goggles. It all stays within the realm of plausibility (barely), until they haggle over the shoes, and they come to a compromise that wrestling boots are the way to go. If you have the ability to run 100 mph, why in the world would a pair of wrestling boots be deemed as adequate, especially since the first instance of full-speed running ends with his sneakers smoking from the speed and friction?

In order to overcome his body’s inability to keep up with his immense speed, Leight’s doctor has conveniently given him “metabolism stabilizing juice” (no lie, it’s actually what he calls it!), which Leight must guzzle periodically or run the risk of a heart attack. Luckily, the nifty utility belt he bought at the sporting goods store just so happens to have loops that the vials of Metabo-ade™ (or whatever) fit in perfectly.

Python’s costume fares little better. It’s bad enough that his origin is nearly identical to that of Spider-Man’s nemesis, The Lizard, who had been studying the regenerative properties of lizards to cure his loss of a limb. Other than snake skin, his idea of a costume is a hoodie, and usually totes some sort of automatic weapon to look like some sort of bad-ass. His henchmen are of the flavorless variety -- beefy, bald white guys with little other distinction. Like most villains, Python likes to bark out commands, make threats and cackle when he does something dastardly, and have nefarious meetings around big tables where he plots world domination, and everyone seems to take him seriously – except for us viewers, who find it all quite laughable.

Despite this being made for television, the amount of blood on display is inordinately high. Perhaps they had a quota of how many gallons of blood must be used, as the amount that spews out of wounds and covers faces is quite liberal. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t look like ketchup, but even the wounds look phony, and sometimes there’s just blood without wounds – often it looks like someone sneezed red goop on the actors.

It’s hard to talk about the plot since it seems so convoluted, but what I could make out of it made very little sense. Somehow, Andrew (aka Python) is thought to have died in the lab fire, and yet, there is no explanation as to why the authorities think this -- there would have obviously been no body recovered if he managed to escape. Oddly, even with some compelling circumstantial evidence supporting Leight’s claims as to who Python is, no on in this top-secret, intelligence-gathering government organization has the ability to concur. Python’s goal to blow up Washington DC (he dubs it “Operation FireSky”) in order to get all those bastards that were responsible for cutting his funding makes no sense, as it is extremely rare for all of the members of the government to be in the city at the same time.  For a guy whose main motivation is avenging a senseless death, he sure has no problems causing a few million of his own.

About the only things I can commend the makers of Lightspeed for is the casting of Lee Majors (aka the “Six Million Dollar Man” himself) in a film about a guy with the ability to run fast, and it has a decent score for such a low budget film. The rest of it is a total disaster, with terrible editing, bad special effects, lackluster acting, and writing that isn’t even fit for consumption in a comic book, much less as a full-length film. I don’t think anyone bothered trying to make something good here, figuring that comic book fans, as well as the Sci Fi channel regulars, will be entertained by anything having to do with a superhero premise.

Lightspeed may be the worst superhero film I have ever seen, perhaps tolerable only to laugh at just how awful it really is. Over his career, Stan Lee has made quite a legacy for himself, forever known as the man who brought us "Spider-Man", "the X-Men", "the Fantastic Four", and "The Hulk "– household name icons on the cutting edge of a major medium. Everything he touched turned to gold.  Times have changed -- it was a great run while it lasted.  After seeing a project like Lightspeed, one hopes he learns a valuable lesson in who to trust his prized projects to in the future.  It would truly be a shame if attaching his good name to a project these days will only identify it as second-rate garbage.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo