Running Delilah

Director: Richard Franklin  
Kim Cattral, Billy Zane, Diana Rigg

I wasn't that big of a comic book fan when I was growing up. Don't get me wrong, there were some particular comic books that I really did want to read, such as classic EC comics, but I was never given an opportunity to read those particular comics until I was well into adulthood. Aside from Archie comic books, I didn't do that much reading of comic books. The reason probably was that to me, the average comic book started well in mid-story, with characters and situations well established. Trying to start in midstream promised to be very confusing. Despite my lack of interest in most comic books, all the same I did have some interest regarding what most of the comics were about - individuals with superpowers. The Hulk had his super strength, Spider Man had his spider powers, and Superman had an incredible number of powers. True, the Hulk was an idiot, Spider Man more often than not had a crappy home life, and Superman's relative lack of vulnerability made him come across as snooty and holier-than-thou. But all the same, the powers these and other superheroes had were fascinating to me. Many times during my childhood I wondered what it would be like to even have just one of the superpowers those superheroes had. It didn't take long to imagine the great things I could do with such powers... though at the same time it didn't take me long to think of disadvantages that would come up, like much unwanted attention. It also didn't take me long to realize that such superpowers were just a fantasy, and could never actually exist in real life. I learned that the only really plausible superhero in the comics world was Batman, whose powers came from skill and knowledge that he built up over a number of years of training and studying.

Even today, I say that the only believable superhero is Batman. Oh, maybe over the years DC and Marvel comics have added a few more heroes with realistic powers, but my knowledge of comics isn't that much greater than when I was a child. Anyway, I've longed have had to face the disappointing fact that in real life, there simply aren't any people with superhuman powers on our streets. At least right now - I do have hope for the future, however. Why is this? Well, it comes to the fact that every year scientists make many new discoveries and scientific achievements. With their new knowledge and their skills, I bet that someday there will be people with extraordinary powers. One possible route to this goal is with genetic engineering. Just a little tampering with someone's DNA, such as combining it with certain DNA traits found in the animal kingdom, could make him or her have attributes such as super strength or extraordinary vision. Another possible way to give someone super powers would be with computer technology, making people cyborgs. Right now, cyborgs are pretty much limited to people with implants like artificial hearts. But what might be possible in the future? One possibility might be the ability to implant computer chips into a person's brain that would speed up his thinking and make him extremely intelligent. Another possibility would be to implant something in someone's ear to make him able to hear things that ordinary people wouldn't be able to hear. Such artificially enhanced attributes as those could make anyone a formidable individual.

I know I am not the first person to think of such artificial enhancements placed in a person who subsequently becomes some kind of super hero. For example, the tRunning Delilahelevision show The Six Million Dollar Man did this several decades ago. Any medium that has the story of superpowers gained through technology has interested me many times over the years. Though I've noticed that such stories tend to focus on adventure more than times when people with their new abilities try to come to terms with their new powers. Dealing with super powers to me is an interesting idea, and I've wanted to see this for quite some time. When I came across Running Delilah, though I was delighted to find a movie concerning someone gaining superpowers, I was hoping that it would try to be different to some degree and show the gifted individual dealing with the fact that she was now very different. Here's the description of the movie from the back of the laserdisc envelope: "Kim Cattrall (Police Academy, Mannequin), a beautiful secret agent, is killed while working undercover against a powerful international arms dealer. Billy Zane (Posse, Sniper), her handsome control agent and would-be lover, races her lifeless body to the agency's top secret experimental laboratory. Five weeks later, Delilah emerges. She has been transformed into a cybernetic super agent, armed with strength and ability far beyond ordinary humans. With Paul's help, she learns to harness her incredible powers for her ultimate mission. She has to stop a terrorist who plans to buy enough plutonium to build a nuclear weapon. The seller turns out to be the same arms merchant who ordered Delilah killed. Only Delilah can stop them both."

Running Delilah was a made-for-TV production produced by the ABC television network. Although the story in the movie manages to stand alone on its own, it is pretty obvious that the events in the movie were a setup for a possible weekly TV series. But apparently the network heads felt in the end that this feature-length pilot was enough, and after watching it for myself, I think the network heads made the right decision. It is not a satisfying viewing experience for the most part, though I will freely admit that it is not completely bad. Some of the acting, for instance, is pretty respectable. The best performance by the movie hands down is that of Diana Rigg (The Avengers). As "Judith", the head of the mysterious government agency Delilah works for, Rigg gives her brief role a real sense of professionalism and authority. The performance is good enough that it seems to come from a more high class movie. Other good performances come from both French actor Francois Guetardy as the head scientist who gives Delilah her new powers, as well as Yorgo Voyagis as the arms merchant. Both these parts are also brief, but the actors give their characters charm and interest all the same, and it's a pity these actors are not given more to do. When it comes to the actors who have much bigger parts in the movie, well, that's a different story. Billy Zane gives an unbelievably bad performance as Delilah's partner. He seems to be treating his serious scenes as a joke, acting either incredibly bland when he should be giving his words conviction and true feeling, or else putting an incredibly goofy smile on his face. It's just as bad when his character is in a much lighter scene. In those scenes he is not amusing, instead coming across as such a smug know-it-all that's in love with himself that you'll want to punch him in the face.

Then there is Kim Cattrall as the title figure. She is merely okay playing the agent who is transformed, though she sure comes across much better in the scenes where she is paired up with Zane. Actually, I am kind of sympathetic towards her mediocre performance, namely because the script doesn't give her as much material that would be needed to make a richer performance. For one thing, we don't see much of the real Delilah before she is transformed into a cyborg. Most of her footage before the operation shows her undercover, playing the part of a workaholic office worker. There's only one (brief) scene showing Delilah as herself, reporting to Zane's character. Because of this, it's kind of hard to get a sense of how the transformation into a cyborg changes this character in the subsequent portions of the movie. But it's not only this fact that gives Cattrall a challenge in selling this character to the audience. There is the portion of the movie when Delilah learns that she has been transformed. When she is shocked by seeing a mechanical arm and a mechanical leg where flesh and blood used to be, what happens? The movie then immediately cuts to some time later, with Zane's character ending his explanation as to what happened to her, so we don't get to really see her initial reaction. In the next few scenes, Delilah seems to be taking her transformation much better than you would expect, but once again we don't really get to learn what's going on in her head all this time. Oh, she does ask questions like, "What am I?" and "Where will I live?" But such concerns are briskly swept away by the screenplay, such as with Zane's character simply telling Delilah to, "Just let it go."

There are further problems with the writing behind the character of Delilah that hurt the movie even more. While I could accept Delilah eventually accepting her new powers and even growing to like having them, the way that these powers are shown are very unsatisfactory. Apart from a few training sequences, the movie seems very reluctant to showing Delilah on the field and actually using them for real. For the longest time we have to sit through those (boring) training sequences, and it's not only until about two-thirds of the movie has passed when Delilah gets her first assignment. And when Delilah actually gets to use her powers, it's a big disappointment. Believe it or not, the way Delilah uses her powers are in a way that with almost no rewriting, Delilah could simply be a very good "normal" agent with no superpowers at all! To add insult to injury, the (limited) action in this final portion of the movie is absolutely flat, with no excitement at all to be found. In fact, Richard Franklin (Psycho II) directs the majority of the movie in the same way. Although only eighty-four minutes long, the movie for the most part is slow and frequently not hasty to get right down to business, padding things far past the breaking point. To be fair, Franklin was clearly working with a limited budget, where most of the expense seems to have been devoted to allowing the movie to shoot on actual locations in Paris. This results in few "wide" shots (more often than not there is a cramped feeling to the movie), cheesy special effects, and poor lighting. And don't get me started on the gawdawful musical score. As I said before, it's easy to see why Running Delilah never became a weekly series. As to why anyone thought this pilot was worth broadcasting, and why it subsequently got to be one of the few made-for-TV movies to get a home video release (not only on laserdisc, but also tape and DVD) are questions that I haven't figured out the answers to yet.

(Posted February 24, 2014)

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See also: Automatic, Robotrix, Star Kid