"Mantis" is the kind of movie that can give an insect a bad name.
It airs at 8 tonight on Fox (Channels 11 and 6), introducing a comic (unintentionally, it appears) super-hero who wears a mantis-like gizmo on his head and moves through the air spritzing criminals with a paralyzing chemical while suspended by a chain from a high-tech flying car called a chrysalid.
The thankless job of playing this clunky lug has befallen Carl Lumbly. Gina Torres is police pathologist Amy Ellis, Bobby Hosea is a TV news reporter and Steve James is a youth center counselor. Well, it's work.
Mantis keeps his real identity secret. In his civvies, he's a biologist who advises the cops in Ocean City, a crime-ravaged community now existing under a tenuous gang truce. But someone wants to break the truce. Who? "Mantis" doesn't actually identify the top honcho, opening the door for "Mantis II," a chilling prospect.
"Mantis" is directed by Sam Raimi ("Darkman") and written by Sam Hamm ("Batman" and "Batman II"). If their intent here was to make a movie containing irony or a sense of humor, it doesn't show. Instead, "Mantis" is funny without trying to be. The special effects are unimpressive, the action sequences hokey and the acting wooden. It doesn't help that Lumbly's voice as Mantis is Darth Vader through an echo chamber, with every line he speaks resonating like a proclamation.
"You can go on destroying each other or you can live together," he tells gangbangers.
"Don't be afraid," he tells a female reporter as he plods forward in his contraption outfit. "I won't hurt you." Oh, too much. Better an old-fashioned mantis, the kind with stout, spiny forelegs.