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Jack of All Trades and Cleopatra 2525

By Devin D. O'Leary

MARCH 6, 2000:  With "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" coming to an end to make room for star Kevin Sorbo's burgeoning movie career (yeah, right), Sam Raimi and Robert Tappert's New Zealand-based TV empire needed a new star attraction to fill the gaping hole beside "Xena: Warrior Princess." Instead, they found two.

Marketed under the blanket banner of "Back 2 Back Action," the new twin stars of Renaissance Pictures' TV syndication package are "Jack of All Trades" and "Cleopatra 2525." Rather than choose one hour-long action series, the producers settled on two half-hour action series -- a formula that hasn't been tried in many a year, but could signal a short-attention-span trend (UPN is reportedly developing a series of 15-minute sitcoms). While half an hour seems like hardly enough time to get the blood pumping, the shows' creators are hoping that the half-hour format will make for zippier plotlines and more fast-paced thrills. It's a good theory -- one that works at least in part.

"Jack of All Trades" seems like the more high-profile of the two shows. It stars Bruce Campbell (longtime Raimi star and "Hercules" mainstay) as Jack Stiles, an American secret agent in the early 18th century sent to a mythical Caribbean island to halt the encroachment of Napoleon's forces into the New World. A sort of blenderized mixture of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and The Pirates of Penzance, "Jack of All Trades" comes across as a very mixed bag.

"Jack" wears its funny bone on its sleeve. Like "Hercules" before it, this is fast and loose historical anarchy, mostly interested in corny puns and slapstick combat. Casting Verne Troyer (Austin Powers' Mini-Me) as Napoleon is your first clue where this show is going. Campbell, it goes without saying, is the show's ace in the hole, mixing just the right amount of Jim Carrey and Errol Flynn. Co-star Angela Marie Datchin, on the other hand, is rather annoying as Jack's reluctant sidekick, a contentious British scientist chick. So far, the show's breakneck pace leaves little room for character development or story set-up. Occasionally, the show looks like it's been edited with a dull hatchet -- a case of too many good ideas in too little space. Grade: C

"Cleopatra 2525," on the other hand, thrives in its truncated environment. "Jack's" companion piece tells the story of an "exotic dancer" named Cleopatra (bright-eyed blonde Jennifer Sky) who goes in for breast augmentation surgery and somehow wakes up from suspended animation 500 years later when the Earth has been invaded by evil cyborgs and humanity has been forced to flee underground. Naturally, she joins a small rebel band of amazonian freedom fighters and kicks robot butt on a weekly basis. Although little more than a jiggly version of Terminator 2, "Cleopatra 2525" succeeds for the very reason that its B-movie premise is so preposterously fun. Grade: B


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