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A Promising Idea Goes Awry in UPN’s ‘Deadly Games’

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

“Deadly Games” is deadly.

UPN’s new science-fiction series, in which evil characters in a home-made video game spring to life and terrorize their creator, is defeated by bungled execution--a promising idea gone awry. Nor, of course, do its special effects approach those in “Mortal Kombat,” the high-flying theatrical feature based on a popular video game.

The premise of “Deadly Games” opens up interesting possibilities, from satire of society’s foibles to campy playfulness. In aiming for that self-mockery, though, “Deadly Games” winds up being less tongue in cheek than tongue in shoe, with James Calvert a dud as Gus, the brilliant scientist whose video game virtuosity backfires, and Christopher Lloyd a white-suited disaster as the wicked Sebastian Jackal.

Gus based his game on characters in his real life, casting himself as the heroic Cold Steel Kid, and his ex-wife, Lauren (Cynthia Gibb), as the damsel in distress he seeks to rescue. Jackal has a plethora of evil associates (one of whom is played by Shirley Jones in the second episode). The first of these is patterned after a bully Gus knew in high school, a limping oaf of a jock named Killshot (Tom Rathman) who drags himself along in full football gear, armed with tiny balls that are actually bombs.

Liberated from the video game by a scientific mishap, Jackal and Killshot extend to real life what Gus programmed them to do in the game. Uh oh. Jackal, warns Gus, seeks “to destroy life as we know it, step by step, until every pleasure we hold dear, from going to a ball game to falling in love, is just a memory.” What? That pasty boob on the screen?

After an hour of “Deadly Games,” you wish it were just a memory.

* “Deadly Games” premieres at 8 tonight on UPN (Channel 13).

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