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Pilot Error: The ‘Chameleon’, or When 3 Pilots Disguise Themselves as the Same Exact Thing

Have you ever watched a network flail about desperately attempting to get a concept to work and yet failing again and again and AGAIN? The Chameleon “Movies” are just that.

In 1997 ABC (pretty sure it was ABC, might have been UPN) was desperate to get into the market already being saturated by Hercules the Legendary Journeys and the second wave of First Run Syndication that had ushered in.

For some reason producer and writer Bennett Cohen was so intent on getting his idea for a killer hot chick assassin in the future to work he made it 3 times… each one being somehow worse than the last attempt, yet having an odd charm to them.

1So in 1998 the first Chameleon “movie” aired. An obvious backdoor pilot but presented as a movie.

Set in a rather bland not quite cyberpunk on a TV budget near future (2028 which looks so much like the late 90’s with only lots of lights and buttons on everything), Kam is a genetically altered superhuman who has the ability to blend into her surroundings (even her clothes oddly enough) essentially making her invisible.

She is a government assassin and soon finds that she might be on the wrong side of things when a small boy comes into her life and she must protect him from the very people she works for.

Or something like that… it’s all rather dumb and pointless.

There are some attempts at world building here but the bulk of this 90 minutes is spent showing us boobs and skin and occasional fights.

Sure there could be more if this had gone to series, but Max Headroom this was not. A shallow and tepid story, Chameleon 1998 is trying very hard to be more than a network scifi show but wanes as it really has no idea where it’s going or what it’s doing.

Bobbie Phillips is Kam, the titled Chameleon and she is a big breasted actress who mostly plays dim-witted big breasted characters in 90’s television.

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She is not a bad actress but she is nothing special but with that said is NOT lead material and that is so evident here. As stated she is not bad, but she just can NOT lead a series, she has no charisma and plays the part of Kam as almost a Terminator cypher even in scenes were the character is meant to have emotional reactions. This could be the fault of the script or the direction by veteran TV movie director Stuart Cooper who is not really known for being anything but dull as a director.

Interesting note though is that Cooper was Roscoe Lever in the original Dirty Dozen. Also Chameleon has a small role for Anthony Simcoe who most of you will know as Ka D’Argo from Farscape. Here he is out of makeup and looks ODD. Like an 80’s California surfer dude who happens to have D’Argo’s voice.

Anyway that pilot didn’t really gain any ground despite good ratings when it aired. It was not picked up as a series but producer Bennett Cohen was not about to stop trying.

chameleon-ii-death-match-images-c275f601-bbf0-4940-9a73-6684b9f1b70Chameleon II: Death Match was thus commissioned. In actuality this was another attempt at a Chameleon pilot and not a sequel as the title clearly implies.

Phillips is back as Kam and since this is another pilot it starts over again with her origin (tweaked some) and this time Kam is set to stop bad guys from taking over a casino. Again a “meh” version of a not really cyberpunk future with not great dialog, standard action scenes and Phillips still unable to overcome the limited role she is given. I have seen her do better than this so I have to assume that it’s the script which is holding her back.

This time though the movie comes off better as it is (partially) helmed by Craig R. Baxley who had gifted us years earlier with the superb I Come In Peace and Stone Cold. The action scenes are standard as stated previously but standard for a movie and honestly above that of a TV pilot.

Again this one did well in the ratings but something was wrong with it and it did not go to series. Bennett Cohen tried yet again (can’t say the man gives up at least).

1709098egxloaicfwsu_r7ygpq9eciizbcw3mw4jokfo1c99pluiaqkaxxkjmsmuojynqhtgeamckk97fbplbhrgi6gChameleon 3: Dark Angel was made in 2000. Again starring Phillips as Kam and again another origin as this is yet another pilot.

Kam is going against… dun dun dun… her brother in this one. As with the other 2 pilots this has no connection to the others and gives us yet another origin for Kam and yet another possible future.

I should note though that in the case of Chameleon 3: Dark Angel the desperation to get this made into a series is starting to really show through. With James Cameron’s much higher profile (and much better) Dark Angel coming out at the same time on a competing network this Dark Angel pales even more.

The tone has been darkened some but still nothing works like it should. Phillips is mostly wasted here and the world this is set is has no real meat to it.

Child’s Play 2 director John Lafia steps in this go around but can’t overcome Cohen’s inability to make this thing work as intended.

1709097q23rquky_d11rhv6rhp72gbn8b4vradnonn2yv1ygdbjmepwmnefgd3fpsbjjq6wzkb_ffyuteho9i18xsgwIn the end the network (UPN at this point) was done giving Chameleon chances and simply released the 3 movies onto home video and left them to die.

Run on the Sci-fi Channel now and then in the mid 2000’s the VHS tapes are rather obscure but I feel bad for anyone picking them up and expecting a franchise instead of the same general idea over and over again for 3 “movies”.

 

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