Film

Lightspeed: The physics, they burn!

Posted on Monday February 1st 2010 at 6:54am
by Jason

What happens when you rip off the Flash, cast the talentless son of an A-list actor, mix in a washed-up Baywatch hottie, pervert science, and slap Stan Lee’s name on the entire low-rent mess? It’s called Lightspeed, and before it hit Netflix it was a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie. Yes, Simply Syndicated friends, I am picking the low-hanging fruit this week.

Jason Leight (aka Lightspeed, aka Jason Connery, aka Sean Connery’s son) is a covert ops agent who gets zapped with radiation by his former friend, a mad-scientist-turned-snake-man. I know, you’re already hopelessly hooked on this tale of Homeric stature. Anyway, the radiation accelerates Leight’s metabolism, allowing him to run really fast.

This common comic book conceit is not unique to Lightspeed, but I want to rant a little bit about it anyway. The Hulk was born of gamma rays. Nuclear bombardment destroyed Jon Osterman’s intrinsic field, turning him into Dr. Manhattan. Radiation from our yellow sun fuels Superman. It was the bite from a radioactive spider that caused Peter Parker to mutate into Spider-Man.

See, in comic books, radiation gives you powers. In the real world, it gives you cancer. Wouldn’t it be nice if Grandma went to the hospital for chemotherapy and came back  able to shoot optic blasts from her eyeballs?

Back to the story. Because you can barely stand the suspense.

We join the action in medias res, which is Latin for “the snake guy is walking around killing people.” This is perhaps the best thing about Lightspeed as compared to other Marvel movies like, say, The Fantastic Four, where we had to wait 45 minutes to get to either a supervillain or any kind of appreciable action. Through flashbacks we find that the Python (oooh, scary!) was once a normal, smiling, happy human trying to use snake DNA to heal burn victims, because, as we all know, snakes are fire-retardant. His lab burns down around him and he grafts his own experimental snakeskin bandages to his wounds. Problems arise when the procedure makes him more snake than man.

And so he goes bad, grows scaly, dons a cowl, and gets super-strength. For some reason, the Python has super speed too — because, in addition to being fire-proof, snakes are also known for zipping around the jungle in bike shorts. Never mind that the fastest snake on record (the black mamba) moves around 6-7 mph.

Did I mention our villain is played by Daniel Goddard, the titular Beastmaster of TV fame?

So the Python’s got these henchmen, see? His “generals” have organized an “army” aimed at overthrowing the government. He wants to blow shit up to get revenge on Congress, which had originally shelved his snake R&D money.

Which highlights another classic, lazy comic book trope. Where do henchmen come from? This is a guy who couldn’t fund his one-room workshop full o’ Bunsen burners, let alone a standing merc force. Where’d he pick these guys up? Where’d they get guns? How does he pay them? Why do they give a crap about his petty revenge scheme? What do they get out of it all?

That aside, the henchmen are impressively hardcore despite their laughable sunglasses-and-flannel-shirts attire. At the Python’s side, they leave a surprisingly high body count, and not just in Hollyw0od-acceptable terms. Usually, the bad guys will only kill the good guys trying to take them down. Hostages more often than not are rescued. Children and pets are often endangered, but never die. But in Lightspeed, to the writers’ credit, even the innocents get mowed down — cops, receptionists, nurses, you name it.

Spoiler alert: Sean Connery’s son and his girlfriend, the Baywatch chick, both live. I know you were worried. Nicole Eggert, who I totally crushed on in 1987 when she was on Charles In Charge, looks a little worse for wear here and never rises above tough-girl-damsel-in-distress-love-interest. I won’t lie, though. Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man himself, dies at the end. You won’t care.

Hey, we haven’t even talked yet about Lightspeed himself, or how incredibly wet he is. You know how the Flash has the same powers but also has all that cocky prankster personality? Yeah, Sean Connery’s son doesn’t have any of that. He’s probably the most boring character in the whole flick. He’s like a really not-interesting piece of… I don’t know… cheese? Except that I like cheese. And we’re not talking about du fromage here, either. More like a bland hunk of processed Kraft American stuff.

His super power is no better. The “awesome” special effects here include doubling the film speed while he runs and adding some blur marks. I mean, Smallville does this shit better, people. His costume is a bobsled suit purchased from a stoner at a local sporting goods outlet, complemented by goggles and combat boots. Leight doesn’t buy the getup to look cool — at least there’s logic in his motivation. He buys it because running unprotected at supersonic speeds results in windburn.

Showing that friction can be a bitch is about the only realism in Lightspeed. Contrary to Newtonian physics, Leight can also ignore inertia and stop on a dime. And contrary to Einsteinian physics, moving at light speed doesn’t cause any kind of time dilation. (I’m guessing he doesn’t really move at light speed, though, because that would mean he could circle the globe eight times in one second, and Leight takes significantly longer to get from point to point in the movie.)

I know it’s just a movie, but I’ve read enough Heinlein novels to set the bar for scientific accuracy waaaay up there.

I guess it’s all to be expected, given the invisible hands behind this 2006 project. Writer John Gray has written pretty much just featurettes for Deadliest Catch, a fishing reality show. And director Don E. FauntLeRoy is best known for the third and fourth Anaconda sequels. World class duo, there.

Then there’s the Stan Lee question.

Yes, his name is slapped across the marquee as though Lightspeed is his character that he created. I’ve got no idea whether Lee ever talked to either Gray or FauntLeRoy. All I know is that his production company had its hand in Lightspeed and two animated superhero sister pictures, The Condor and Mosaic, neither of which I’ve seen.

The point is that it doesn’t perform like a Stan Lee property. Marvel is built on the back of Lee and collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. These are the guys who eschewed the clean-cut Superman archetypes in favor of conflicted, complicated antiheroes like Logan, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, and Tony Stark.

As far as Marvel and its new owner, Disney, are concerned, Lee is a money-printing machine. His big-screen characters have made $5.9 billion. Lightspeed, on the other hand,has made me ill. At 2.8 on IMDB, it’s a liability.

Matter of fact, I can easily think of several lame-ass Lee characters I would rather have seen hit Sci-Fi’s airwaves: Batroc the Leaper, a frog-themed French fighter; Kangaroo, an Australian with super-leaping abilities; and Aunt May, who pretty much has inhuman powers to love and nag.

Pretty much anything other than James Bond Jr. in fast forward.

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