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New series review: Flash Gordon (Sci Fi Channel)

Flash and Dale flash flesh in Sci Fi's "contemporized" Flash Gordon.

Premiering: Friday night, Aug. 10 at 8 (central) on Sci Fi Channel
Starring: Eric Johnson, Gina Holden, Jody Racicot, John Ralston, Karen Cliche, Giles Panton, Jill Teed
Produced by: Peter Hume, Robert Halmi, Sr.

Direct from planet Hollywood, here's another version of Flash Gordon.

This one's pretty dopey, not that these adventures have ever been very deep. Birthed in a 1934 comic strip, Flash (Eric Johnson) returns in present times on the Sci Fi Channel to battle bad-nasty Ming (John Ralston), who's had "The Merciless" subtracted and doesn't look very menacing either.

Flash -- real name Stephen -- was nicknamed as a kid by his believed-to-be-dead dad. That's because he could run really fast, and we begin Friday's 90-minute premiere with Flash winning his third straight Tri-City Marathon. He finishes fresh as a daisy, looking no more winded than Superman running the 100 yard dash.

On hand at the finish line is Dale Arden (Gina Holden), Flash's old high school sweetheart. She's now a TV reporter engaged to detective Joe Wylee (Giles Panton). Meanwhile, Flash still lives with his mother (Jill Teed), who looks young enough to be his big sister. She travels a lot, allowing Flash and his pal, Nick Gilmore (the single-named actor Panou), to rebuild classic cars while headquartered at mom's house.

Eventually Flash encounters the storied Hans Zarkov (Jody Racicot), who used to work with his dad on the secret Portage Initiative. Gadzooks, Zarkov has detected another mysterious "trans-dimensional rift." Flash learns that his father disappeared through one of these, and in fact didn't die in a fire. After a really lame chain of events, Flash and Dale are sucked in, too, with our hero determined to find his dad.

Flash hadn't been much fun on Earth, but on another planet he's suddenly a playful quipster. Ming and his minions are determined to find Earth's very valuable "Imex," though, so Flash is soon on a torture rack. By this time Flash Gordon has become a little torturous itself. Nothing quite works very well, particularly the hot pursuit of Flash by Ming's lusty daughter, Baylin (Karen Cliche), who makes Dale newly jealous.

Johnson, best known as the recurring Whitney Fordman on Smallville, is no great shakes in his first lead role. He's cute, though. And Holden as Dale fills the bill in a temptress costume ordered up by Ming. Otherwise the special effects look less than special, even though a review copy sent to critics was missing some of them.

Future episodes will find Flash and company bouncing back and forth between Earth and distant planets. You definitely won't have to be a rocket scientist to play along.

Grade: C-minus