Review: Painkiller Jane

Painkiller Jane

In the US: Fridays, SciFi, 10/9c

In the UK: Not yet acquired

For at least a couple of decades now, we’ve been told that comics are a grown up, complicated medium. We have the likes of Sandman, Hellblazer, Doom Patrol, Preacher and many other fantasy titles to prove it, as well as straighter stories like Maus, a harrowing recounting of the holocaust but with rodents instead of humans.

But for every Maus, there’s ten Painkiller Janes: silly piles of sci-fi rubbish, bereft of intelligence, logic, originality and point. The SciFi Channel clearly thought mouse holocausts didn’t fit their target demographic, because now, from the star of Uwe Boll’s Dungeon Siege 2 and BloodRayne, yes, it’s that woman who played the female Terminator in Terminator 3, comes Painkiller Jane, a crippling blow to the spine in the rehabilitation of the comics medium, as well as to television sets everywhere.

Plot (painfully stolen from the SciFi Channel web site, although all traces will quickly disappear)

In a very imaginable future, the world battles terrorism and unrest. Out of this chaos emerges a new hero: Jane Vasco, a.k.a. Painkiller Jane (Kristanna Loken).

Once the DEA’s top agent, Jane Vasco is formidable, both mentally and physically. As a child, her father nicknamed her Painkiller Jane, describing her ability to mentally push through even the most painful situations. But her strength is about to be tested.

Jane is recruited by a covert government agency dedicated to containing and, if necessary, neutralizing the threat of “Neuros” – individuals with superhuman neurological powers. No one knows what caused the aberrations that led to their enhanced abilities, which range from from telekinesis and telepathic suggestion to induced hallucinations.

During her first investigation with her new team, Jane discovers that she too possesses an odd ability: she can’t be killed. Unfortunately, she can still feel pain. Her newfound powers make Jane even more determined to learn everything there is to know about Neuros.

Seldom malicious, Neuros often can’t control their powers. Consequently, they tend to leave a trail of death and destruction. To prevent a panic, the government has kept the discovery of Neuros a secret, assembling a covert unit to identify and contain Neuros.

Operating from a secure abandoned subway platform, the core members of the unit are Andre McBride (Rob Stewart), the seasoned team leader; Connor King (Noah Danby), a special agent regularly armed with a smart remark; Riley Jensen (Sean Owen Roberts), an evolved computer whiz in charge of surveillance and communications; Dr. Seth Carpenter (Stephen Lobo), the unit’s doctor and scientist; Joe Waterman (Nathaniel Deveaux), the middle-aged caretaker of the subway; and Maureen Bowers (Alaina Huffman), Jane’s former DEA partner and friend, who, like Jane, was recruited after discovering top-secret information about Neuros.

Painkiller Jane is based on the comic-book series of the same name created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada.

Is it any good?

So you’ve made it through the plot summary, I hope. It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that this version of Painkiiller Jane bears little resemblance to either the comic (thankfully?) or the SciFi channel movie that appeared a little while ago. Instead, Kristanna Loken, clearly realising that Uwe Boll films, guest spots on The L Word and being Michelle Rodriguez’s girlfriend weren’t doing her career an awful lot of good, has chosen to exec produce this ‘futuristic’ tale starring herself as the eponymous Painkiller Jane.

Painkiller Jane
is set in FutureWorld. No, not Futureworld or even Futureworld, but FutureWorld. It’s a strange parallel universe that’s just a little bit more advanced than ours and seems a little like the world inhabited by Blade Runner, The Matrix, Equilibrium and other better sci-fi stories. However, its principal defining characteristic is that in this reality, Thomas Edison never had the chance to invent the light bulb.

In this strange, gloomy world, visited since the 80s by straight-to-video/DVD films and shows like Megaville and Mutant X, people skulk around in disused subway station bases, rather than nicely lit office units, desperately trying to fight whatever evil menace challenges society. In this case, it’s “neuros”, people who can influence others with their minds.

Whatever you do, don’t call them Scanners. They won’t like that: it’s infringement of copyright.

But DEA agent Jane Vasco is special, too. She can’t die. Not even when she’s hurled out of the 46th floor of an office block. That would normally turn anyone in the real world into a widely dispersed pool of slurry, but Jane just looks a little beaten up afterwards, before healing back again.

Realising her specialness, she decides to put her talents to good use hunting down neuros. We’re not sure why. She just does. Maybe it’s because she fancies the ex-special forces team leader who has orders to stop the neuros. No wait, she’s got a poorly-defined girlfriend. That won’t happen. Maybe the Indian doctor then? (Isn’t it great? US TV is busily discovering all the stereotypes about Indians that British TV pioneered in the 70s. Coming soon: Mind Your Language: The Next Generation). No, probably not: he’s too ethnic and we’ve already gone with the sci-fi rule of ethnicity and killed the black guy in the first episode, so no romance there.

Loken has done the typical actor-exec-producing thing and given herself all the stupidly macho dialogue (stuff about calling the shots for herself). No one behaves with the slightest degree of intelligence: when Jane refuses to join the anti-neuros team, they blackmail her into joining, rather than simply killing her or letting her walk away; and when faced with an enemy that can influence people’s minds, wouldn’t you try to avoid at all costs being detected, rather than sending in the two hot babes to push the mail trolley around to the secure part of the baddies’ headquarters.

The acting is poor; characterisation is non-existent or assembled from Lego brick kits; the direction is aimed at people who needs CGI graphics to sum up a character in five seconds but who need constantly flashbacks to remind them of things they might have forgotten from five minutes previously.

Ultimately, this is bubble gum for the brain. Probably its only assets are Loken’s looks, which will draw in a certain kind of crowd, and the occasional bit of genuine sci-fi that doesn’t come straight off the assembly line.

Stupid, but chewy then. The Carusometer and I will sit watching it, taking our cool sunglasses on and off for a couple more of weeks before passing final judgement.

Normally, I’d give you a YouTube trailer about now, but they’re all rubbish. You can try to watch videos over on the SciFi channel web site instead (US viewers only) or watch this singularly poor one instead.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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