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'Locusts' conquered, Lawless puts bite on bats

Dallas Morning News

30 October 2005

Scans contributed by Lisa

Dallas Morning News


Lucy Lawless really should be over on that other network, co-starring in "Desperate Housewives."

Instead she's again competing against the ABC mega-hit in CBS' sequel to last spring's "Locusts." This time it's "Vampire Bats," with Lawless reprising her role as "voracious- insect specialist" Maddy Rierdon.

Also back on board is Dylan Neal as her dutiful husband, Dan Dryer. But he's about as necessary to this enterprise as a peanut butter sandwich in a sauna.

CBS bit again because "Locusts" drew a nice-size 12.7 million viewers April 24 while also placing 20th among advertiser-craved 18- to 49-year-olds. The following week's more prestigious, character-driven Sunday night movie, "Riding the Bus With My Sister," nabbed 15 million viewers but had fewer young ones than "Locusts."

That's how TV works these days, so you're not going to be seeing "Riding the Train With My Sister-in-Law." But you may be treated to "Snakes Alive!" or something similar if "Vampire Bats" sucks in enough of the "right" kinds of viewers.

"Vampire Bats" at least has an interesting back story. It was being filmed in New Orleans until the onset of Hurricane Katrina forced an evacuation. The crew then made its way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to complete the thing.

CBS says most of the outdoor location work had been completed before New Orleans got hit. That includes a silly bayou scene in which "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson drops in to play an ill-fated fisherman. Look, up in the sky! Then cut to a commercial just before he's Swiss-cheesed by the title characters.

Two other recognizable humanoids stay a bit longer. Brett Butler, little-seen since her post-"Grace Under Fire" bouts with drugs and depression, gets a port in the storm as Dan's busybody older sister, Shelly. Let's just say that the intervening years have taken a severe physical toll on Butler, whose character is described as "an overcaffeinated Mary Poppins."

Timothy Bottoms also pitches in as ineffectual mayor Hank Poelker. It's been 34 years since his breakout performance as good-hearted Sonny Crawford in "The Last Picture Show." Lately he's played President Bush twice, both in a serious Showtime movie about 9/11 and in Comedy Central's ultrafarcical "That's My Bush!" sitcom.

"You know what gets me?" Shelly tells Hank. "How the biggest weasel in high school got to be mayor."

But we're not particularly worried about weasels here. Those cheesy looking vampire bats keep terrifying the populace, particularly the hard-partying students of Tate University, where both Maddy and her hubby are teaching.

Most of the doofus male college kids look tailor-made for another "Scooby-Doo" movie. The females specialize in stripping down to their bras and panties, which means you can't really blame the bats for zeroing in.

One of the kids actually says, "Oh, c'mon, if people our age can go to war, we can certainly help you capture some stupid vampire bats."

Some of the bat-driven special effects were missing from the review tape sent to critics. CBS instead provided printed words such as "Bats wake up & fly around" and "Yellow bat eyes emerge."

Lawless, 37, consistently is a visual delight deserving of better than this. The former "Xena: Warrior Princess" star doesn't have to disrobe in the least to look sexier than the movie's entire contingent of student posers.

Seriously, she really ought to be considered for "Desperate Housewives." Maybe Wisteria Lane should suffer a February sweeps attack of killer woodpeckers. Then it could be Lucy Lawless to the rescue. That'd work, wouldn't it?


What: "Vampire Bats"

When: 8 tonight

Where: CBS