In 2000, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (of Evil Dead fame) produced two short-lived, campy, half-hour syndicated TV series – Jack of all Trades, starring Bruce Campbell, and Cleopatra 2525, an unusual amalgamation of various themes into an extremely fast-paced show.
Take part Xena: Warrior Princess (female leads bearing skin along with leather and metal), Buck Rogers (frozen person revived in the future), The Matrix (people primarily living underground while robots rule the surface), The Terminator (human-like robots called Betrayers infiltrating the human resistance), Batman (the clown-faced bad guy Creegan), a little kung-fu movie gymnastics, lots of special effects, and a lot of shooting and explosions, and you’ve got Cleopatra 2525, starring Gina Torres (Firefly and The Matrix Trilogy, Jennifer Sky (Xena: Warrior Princess), and Victoria Pratt (Mutant X).
The premise – Cleopatra (Sky), an exotic dancer who went in for breast augmentation surgery, is awakened in the year 2525, having been frozen – and finds herself in the middle of a battle between resistance fighters Hel (Torres) and Sarge (Pratt) and a Betrayer robot, and ends up becoming a member of the team. She learns the surface is ruled by flying robots called Baileys, and the resistance is lead by The Voice, who only Hel can hear. Cleo brings her 21st century savvy and seduction to bear to help the team.
In the meantime, they do battle against Creegan (played well by Joel Tobeck, who played Strife in Hercules – The Legendary Journeys, a strange clown-faced character seeking to find The Voice, and seems to know Hel pretty well, as well as other various little plots that find their way into the story.
I admit that I never saw this series when it was originally on. When the syndication market dried up thanks to the new networks, such shows were generally relegated to weekend daytime or late night, so it fell under the radar. It also wasn’t particularly something I would have sought out on the TiVo, although I generally like the campiness of the Raimi/Tapert efforts. I also didn’t quite enough time to watch the whole series for this review (30 episodes), so this review is based on about 10 episodes.
Given that this was a half-hour series, its pretty amazing any sort of plot has time to show up at all. Each episode basically consists of a setup, a lot of shooting and stunts, and an ending. Not exactly a lot of time to actually develop a character or tell a story. Most all SF shows are an hour, which is necessary to tell any meaningful story – but that’s not the purpose of this show. This is supposed to be campy, fun, and sexy. Women in leather and silver bustiers shooting and doing flips and blowing things up. Seems there is a demographic in mind.
Most of the action seems to revolve around a “shaft” – which seems to be miles deep, with abandoned levels everywhere. I am to understand that there are several such shafts, where humans dwell underground. Our heroines make their way down the shaft by simply jumping, and using their all-powerful bracelets to slow and stop – and have a Spider-Man web slinging feature to travel upwards.
There are many action sequences – it seems they were required in every episode. The bracelets fire lasers (or blasters, or whatever), and also provide shielding capabilities. Strangely, the shielding seems pretty effective – yet they still dive for cover. Probably so they can use the improbable kung-fu gymnastics doing standing flips and running up walls.
Despite all the flaws, the show was still fun to watch, and I think that was the point. We aren’t talking Babylon 5 plot depth, but there _is_ a story. Who is The Voice, and why is her location so secretive? Who is controlling the Baileys? And just why are they called that?
Alas, as with most short-lived shows, we are left without a conclusion. The final episode recounts some of the events leading up to it, and answers some questions – but not all of them, and ends in a cliffhanger. Imagine if The Matrix Trilogy ended just as the Sentinels broke through to Zion. And literally, this isn’t far off from how it ends.
The complete series comes on 3 double-sided DVDs (although the B side of disc 3 is blank) in a foldout cardboard case the size of the standard DVD case, with two of the discs overlapping – this unfortunately means you must remove one to get at the other without damaging either disc. The folder then fits in a textured slipcase, adorned with the three heroines.
Plot/Story: Well, it’s been said before – how would they fit one in? But there is at least a story in there, trying to get out. 1/5
Characters/Acting: Again, there is little room for character development in a 30-minute action show. The characters are what they are. I’d have to watch more to see, but the most intriguing character/acting to me was Creegan, at least in the final episode. Although I couldn’t help thinking of Darph Bobo, the evil clown from SCI FI’s Tripping the Rift. 2/5
Effects/Visuals: Well, its all action, all the time. Lots of blasts, booms and blue screen. The sets seem limited – I saw the same set used numerous times. 3/5
DVD Extras: Not a ton, but there were the always desired outtakes (warning: they are not edited for language, and these women tend towards the explicit when they flub their lines), deleted scenes, a special effect/stunts reel set to music, and a bonus episode from the series Earth 2. I would have love to hear a Raimi/Tapert commentary, but there was none to be found. 2/5
Overall: We are not talking classic SF status here, but a campy show that maybe is worth watching once. 2/5
Total: 2 out of 5. Certainly one to pick up if you were a fan. If you are curious, rent or borrow first to see if it interests you.
Update: Forgot to mention – I do intend to watch all the episodes…it is at least interesting enough to see how it plays out.