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Painkiller Jane

The Bottom Line

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10-11 p.m. Friday April 13
Sci Fi Channel

Back in December 2005, Sci Fi Channel aired a back-door pilot titled "Painkiller Jane," based on a butt-kicking Event Comics superheroine who essentially was the second coming of the Bionic Woman. An Army Special Forces operative, she could run like the wind, had all variety of inexplicable physical and mental powers, possessed superhuman strength and was 10 steps ahead of everyone else. She was, in essence, Lindsay Wagner without the Ford campaign.

Now here we are 16 months later, and the show is back with a healthy 22-episode order. She still has a bunch of abilities, but not the same ones. She's now a government operative who is impervious to injury and cannot be killed, giving her something in common with my former wives. (That's a joke, I swear it.)

In fact, "Painkiller Jane" has been reincarnated as a far lamer show than it was on first view more than a year ago. Back then, I raved about its alluring lead: Emmanuelle Vaugier of "Saw II" fame. She was the best thing about the original two-hour project. So naturally the producers went and replaced her. The new Jane is Kristanna Loken (the unstoppable cyborg from "Terminator 3"). She's not nearly as charismatic as was Vaugier, and her character's story also isn't as interesting. Before, she was rescued from certain death after taking several fatal gunshot wounds, suddenly fully healed and indestructible. In the current version, she can't be offed and has incredible regenerative powers but does feel pain, curiously. What was previously fascinating has been rendered convoluted.

Ain't that always the way? A show works, and so you gut it of all save for the title: new actors, new story line, new production team. It's like: "We love it! Now change everything." Ah, television.

As it now stands, "Jane" centers on DEA agent Jane Vasko (Loken), who has been recruited by the feds to do battle with the "Neuros," genetically enhanced folks with superhuman neurological powers because of an undisclosed aberration. They can perform telekinetic tricks and telepathic-induced hallucinations but often have no control over it.

Jane is joined by the usual motley futuristic crew: the team leader (Rob Stewart), the smart aleck (Noah Danby), the egghead computer whiz (Sean Owen Roberts), the doc (Stephen Lobo) and the best friend (Alaina Huffman). In the confusing premiere, the one thing we wonder but never discover is why she's called Painkiller Jane if she still can feel pain. Oh, that's right, it was a nickname her daddy gave her when she was a little girl. Whatever.

Are you riveted yet? Didn't think so. There's an abundance of style to go around here, with director of photography Todd Williams, production designers James Hazell and Paul McCulloch and visual effects wizards Adam Stern and Kevin Struckman creating a world of intense foreboding visually. It has an "X-Files"-esque quality in terms of the look and mood.

But the opening script by exec producer Gil Grant packs in the cliches and dumbspeak, and director Nick Copus seems to have told his performers to make like anal-retentive statues in their stance and delivery. Loken, for her part, has the Amazon woman look down but proves less than convincing as an action icon, evoking more incredulity than confidence. We'll see if her show is as immortal as she is. I'm guessing no.

PAINKILLER JANE
Sci Fi Channel
Insight Film Studios and Kickstart Comic Arts Studios
Credits:
Creator: Jimmy Palmiotti
Executive producers: Gil Grant, Rob Word, Jason Netter, Ken F. Levin
Co-executive producer: Kristanna Loken
Producer: Kirk Shaw
Line producer: Richard Bullock
Associate producer: Sandra Gould
Teleplay: Gil Grant
Director: Nick Copus
Director of photography: Todd Williams
Production designers: James Hazell, Paul McCulloch
Art directors: Rudi Grant, Erin Sinclair
Costume designer: Ken Shapkin
Visual effects supervisors: Adam Stern, Kevin Struckman
Editors: Jamie Alain, Trevor Mirosh
Composers: Mike Thomas, John Sereda
Sound mixer: Mark Schroeder
Casting: Paul Ruddy, Candice Elzinga, Laura Brooke Toplass
Cast:
Jane Vasko: Kristanna Loken
Andre McBride: Rob Stewart
Connor King: Noah Danby
Riley Jensen: Sean Owen Roberts
Dr. Seth Carpenter: Stephen Lobo
Joe Waterman: Nathaniel Deveaux
Maureen Bowers: Alaina Huffman