In my search to find some way to spend my evenings, last night I watched SciFi Channel’s Painkiller Jane, a repeat of one of their Saturday night made-fors. These SciFi “B-movies” have virtually become a genre unto themselves. There are better examples and worse examples of them, and Painkiller Jane is solidly in the middle of the pack. I’d joke about it being a sedative in and of itself, but that seems far too easy, thus I will attempt to go for the long con.
It’s not a terribly well-plotted movie, I’d call it something of a murky jungle if it weren’t for the fact that it’s actually more like a desert in its sparseness. The entire movie has the feel of a backdoor pilot. So much time is spent establishing the premise that there is little left for anything else.
The film opens with Jane’s getting injured in a botched raid of a drug factory that turns out to be the home of terrifying biochemical experiments. A long time is then spent on her (and the army) discovering her abilities (she has a superhuman metabolism and therefore a superhuman ability to heal herself, run quickly, etc.). By the time the maguffin terrorist storyline unfolds it is half-baked, half-hearted, and half-dead. Of course, if this is meant as a backdoor pilot, that’s far more acceptable, the entire point then is to establish the characters, more in-depth plots will take place in later episodes.
By their very nature storylines like the one concocted here, in which a deadly terrorist with no recent pictures is uncovered, require that suspicion of guilt be thrown from one person to another and possibly back again; ought to be more twisted than a jungle vine. That twisting takes place here, with suspicion first falling on Jane’s doctor then her mentor and then back again, but the accusations are made within five minutes of each other and within the last 15 minutes of the movie. It makes for a very short, unsatisfactory vine for the movie to swing on.
It actually felt as though they realized that it would be impossible to introduce a new character for Jane to find and face down, so the writers decided to just use an already established character as the villain.
The performances are all adequate, nothing outstanding and nothing terribly deficient. Certainly they’re far more credible than the plot to which they are attached. The slime and mud that oozes from virtually every character and in which they find themselves entangled is palpable, but completely expected.
It’s a sad little jungle that the folks at Painkiller Jane built for themselves and their characters. The trees are sparse, the vines are short, and the mud is in carefully orchestrated, well marked places. If only they’d made it a little more substantial maybe Tarzan could have come along and saved the picture.