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Toronto Sun TV Guide

22 April 2005

Article/Scans contributed by Ria

Day of Lawless Locusts


By Jim Bawden

Over at CBS the network is literally tossing everything against ABC's Sunday-night juggernaut of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy.

Using ordinary TV stars like Christina Applegate hasn't exactly worked, so CBS has unveiled a new secret weapon. Would you believe it's Locusts?

"Hire every locust you can find!" barked the CBS president. "I don't care if they are American locusts or Canadian or whatever. We can dub in the correct accents later. Let the word go forth -CBS desperately needs to work with any and all able-bodied locusts."

And so there was assembled the greatest concentration of grasshoppers since Cecil B. DeMille shot his plague scenes for The Ten Commandments (1956). Locusts from far and wide obediently swarmed into CBS's Studio Center. The resulting mammoth TV movie premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on CBS and Citytv and should do for grasshoppers what previous TV disaster epics did for a whole range of unjustly neglected critters. Remember that great one. Killer Bees (1974) - as the bees fought off Gloria Swanson for those great close-ups? And what about the simply titled Ants (1977), as the pesky critters ate right through Myrna Loy's wooden wheelchair?

But sadly, my repeated requests to do an on-set piece were rebuffed. Not by the locusts but by CBS - as a spokesperson told me: "You think it's easy working with a bunch of grasshoppers? Do you know what lunch means on this set? And what about when the assistant director shouts 'Cue the grasshoppers!' Some simply refuse to take direction."

But the TV movie isn't all about the locusts. It stars Xena's Lucy Lawless, who is virtually unrecognizable in modern garb. That's correct, not once does Lawless strip down to her undies. Not once does she have to toss a spear. No wonder she appears so relaxed even when facing a dark cloud of scene-stealing grasshoppers. She plays Dr. Maddy Rierdon, a voracious insect expert.

To support Lawless, CBS has peopled the film with recognizable TV names. Richmond Hill's Dylan Neal portrays Lawless's husband. As her boss - yeah, the guy who bred in a laboratory a whole new mutant population of grasshoppers to study - there's John Heard as the perplexed scientist. But Heard was also in The Cat People (1982), and I'm sure would agree any actor with more than two legs is a positive threat to a scene.

And from M*A*S*H and Providence there's Mike Farrell, now white-haired, as a kindly and also experienced farmer. Did I mention the super locusts reproduce at a ferocious rate, are three times bigger than normal locusts, can travel 186 kilometres a day, and could munch an entire continent?

The thing about Locusts is the human actors really must believe. Any sign of "camping it up" and the story gets lost. There are some scenes in the rough cut I previewed where the grasshoppers had yet to be printed in. Looking at a blank green screen and expressing fright, now that's the true measure of convincing TV acting. In some scenes the grasshoppers were already there via CGI and special effects.

Locusts opens with teenagers messing around. The glass window and door suddenly fill up with squirming, agitated grasshoppers, and when the teenaged girl carries a plant out onto the porch she's swarmed. Her fight for her life is exciting and dramatic.

In TV's law of diminishing returns subsequent swarmings are less effective dramatically and so are the explanations of how the clouds might be controlled if life on this continent is to survive.

By placing Locusts just outside the all important May sweeps period CBS indicates it is not quite ready to have the fate of its Sunday movie completely sealed by a bunch of insects. 9 p.m. on CBS and Citytv.