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The New York Times

22 April 2005


It's a Plague of Network Proportions



What kind of actress will convince us once and for all that girls can be math-science people? Brunet? British? Old?

Most recently, Drew Barrymore is thought to have missed the mark as a corporate mathematician in "Fever Pitch." And maybe erudition didn't spring to mind when Denise Richards played Dr. Christmas Jones in "The World Is Not Enough."

But it's Lucy Lawless's chance Sunday on "Locusts" on CBS. With her unprocessed hair, minimal makeup and superhero features, she seems plausible - almost - as an entomology expert, with a specialty in bug voracity. With an assist from John Heard, she even manages to pull off locust-oriented conversation and locust-directed hysteria for the better part of two hours.

A barely serviceable television movie, "Locusts" visits Dr. Maddy Rierdon (Ms. Lawless) at the height of her career as undersecretary of agriculture. She's wearing a bra. She's telling her hot, good-hearted husband, Dan (Dylan Neal), something about how important her work is, and he's saying he wants a family. An emergency phone call delivers her from him and into the hands of Peter (Mr. Heard), an old mentor who is messing around with locusts. He has some H. G. Wells-era idea about how he's helping mankind by endangering mankind, but he has it all under control.

She incinerates the locust population and fires him. But some locusts get free! And take over the world!

More or less. In the meantime, Dan leaves Maddy, and she finds out she's pregnant. Scene after scene shows swarms of buzzing bugs in various places - bashing through the window of a corporate high-rise, overtaking a school bus - as actors scream at visual effects.

Ms. Lawless looks very down-to-earth in this role, and in spite of the opening lingerie scene, dresses modestly, in an almost collegiate style. So maybe she does look science-y. Besides, her mind does seem to be exclusively on bugs. How else could she think up her awesome electrocution solution and forestall the apocalypse?

"Locusts" is not a good movie. In fact, it's apt to send cerebral viewers back to the age-old Network Perplex, the one that has stumped researchers for years: Who watches television movies?

It's a conundrum that not even the most credible-looking female scientist can solve.


CBS, Sunday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time

Directed by David Jackson; Frank von Zerneck, Robert M. Sertner and Jill Tanner, executive producers; Peter Sadowski, co-producer. Malcolm Petal, co-executive producer; Christopher Morgan, producer. Produced by Randy Sutter; von Zerneck-Sertner Films; written by Doug Prochilo.

WITH: Lucy Lawless (Dr. Maddy Rierdon), John Heard (Peter), Dylan Neal (Dan), Gregalan Williams (General Williams), Mike Farrell (Lyle), Natalija Nogulich (Lorelei), Mike Gomez (Secretary Morales) and Esperanza Catubig (Vivian).