Back in the mid-90s, the most popular team in comic books wasn’t the X-Men, but a group from independent publisher Image Comics. Created by Jim Lee, Brandon Choi and Jim Scott Campbell, “GEN 13” was the sexiest, edgiest team on the shelf and a hit with readers. An animated film version was soon produced by Disney to be released under their Hollywood Pictures banner directly to video. But Disney decided to change their distribution plans after seeing the final product, dumping the film on the direct-to-video market in only a few countries overseas. After seeing the final product, you can’t help but think they made a wise choice.
“GEN 13” introduces us to Caitlin Fairchild, a teenager offered a place in an institute for gifted children. She soon learns that the school isn’t really a school, but rather a military project to turn children with a special genetic structure into super soldiers. After developing incredibly enhanced abilities, Caitlin rebels against the program that created her. But all is not what it appears; there are some in the military who want to help her, and a deadly enemy is actually a long lost sibling.
As the voice of Fairchild, Alicia Witt (“Vanilla Sky”) does an excellent job. She makes her transformation from bookish teen to a fearless Amazon very believable. Mark Hamill (“Comic Book: The Movie”) is equally enjoyable as the psychotic Threshold. All attitude and psychosis but impeccably dressed, Threshold is the perfect adversary for the fledgling superheroes. John DeLancie’s Col. John Lynch is also impressive, voicing his part with the right combination of authority and concern for the children being tested. Unfortunately DeLancie is not in the film enough to make much of an impact.
Sadly, those three are the exceptions. Cloris Leachman does her best with the role of Helga, the students’ instructor, but she winds up sounding annoying with her affected German accent. As Ivana Baiul, Lauren Lane sounds like she’s trying to channel every villainess in all the spy movies ever made. It doesn’t work, and she grates on your nerves quickly instead of sounding seductively evil. The biggest disaster is rock star Flea as Grunge, who manages to voice his character like a surfer who’s been hit repeatedly on the head with his board. When he acquires his abilities, you cringe because he’s the last person you’d want to have superpowers.
Of course the failure of “GEN 13” isn’t just because of four bad performances. Kevin Alteri’s leaden direction doesn’t help matters, making 90 minutes feel like an eternity. The script, which Alteri co-wrote with producer Karen Kollis, is anything but noteworthy. Basically it’s an extended origin story that takes too long in getting to the point where the characters become superheroes. Background information is good, but it would be nice to see Caitlin’s powers already developed and how it happened told in flashbacks.
The animation is fair, mainly of the afternoon cartoon caliber, although occasionally there is a scene that makes you sit up and take notice. But those are few and far between, although they do remind you how much better “GEN 13” could have looked. Another problem is the music by Amotz Plessner, which ranges from the overly loud to practically nonexistent. Not the kind of score you’d want to enhance an animated drama.
Although “GEN 13” was never distributed in the United States, you can still find it on eBay or from import video dealers. The best audience for this misfire is fans of the comic, and die-hard fanboys in general who’ll watch anything comic book related. But everyone else just looking for an exciting 90 minutes should look elsewhere.
Kevin Altieri (director) / Kevin Altieri (screenplay)
CAST: Alicia Witt …. Caitlin Fairchild
John de Lancie …. Colonel John ‘Jack’ Lynch
Elizabeth Daily …. Freefall/Roxy Spaulding
Flea …. Grunge/Edward Chang
Mark Hamill …. Threshold/Matthew Callahan