'Witchblade' lacks comic book charm

Friday, August 25, 2000

For a comic book story to transcend its roots and succeed as a movie or TV show, it has to create an intriguing and often conflicted hero, present a strong story and feature an interesting, and preferably original, production design.

TNT's "Witchblade," a telemovie (and series pilot) premiering Sunday night at 8 ET, comes close on the hero part but misses entirely on the other elements.

Yancy Butler, who already has survived one sci-fi debacle (Dick Wolf's ill-conceived "Mann and Machine" series, where she played a cyborg cop) and a short-lived Steven Bochco police drama ("Brooklyn South"), plays a policewoman yet again here.

Butler is Sara Pezzini, a homicide detective in present-day New York City (well, almost present day; the telemovie begins on Nov. 11, 2000). Her friends, like her father, a policeman, keep getting killed � and her best chance of exacting revenge comes about by accident, when a shootout inside a museum brings her in contact with a mysterious and ancient bracelet artifact.

The bracelet is, in reality, a Witchblade. When worn by the preordained champion, it becomes a chameleonic powerhouse: a bullet-deflecting bracelet here, a bayonet-like knife here, a samurai sword there. In other words, it's Wonder Woman's bracelets, Wolverine's claws and Xena's sword all rolled into one � and it changes into a suit of armor, too.

In TV's "Witchblade," written by J.D. Zeik and directed by Ralph Hemecker, Sara's armor is neither buff nor buffed. It's clunky and anything but form-fitting. In the original Top Cow comic book, the Witchblade metamorphosed into an outfit that was part H.R. Giger and part Penthouse: a living, skimpy, (barely) protective bikini, with boots and arm gauntlets to match.

On TV, the pinup quotient is downplayed to the point of negation. Butler wears jeans most of the time, going for basic realism instead of comic fantasy fulfillment. Which would be fine, if anything else about this "Witchblade" took the same approach.

Instead, the special effects try to play with time and space as in "The Matrix," the editing is so rapid-fire it tries to make MTV look like "Teletubbies."

Only Butler, who takes all of this seriously enough to look anguished at all times, deserves none of the blame for this meltdown. That look of anguish, though, could be explained simply by her having read the script, and comprehending what she and her agent had gotten her into.