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CLASSICS OF REANIMATION ON HALLMARK, USA.

Byline: David Kronke Television Critic `

CAN'T IMPROVE on perfection,'' a character rasps with gravelly disdain in USA Network's upcoming production ``Frankenstein.'' Given that the Internet Movie Database lists 1,167 films with ``Frankenstein'' in the title, you might reasonably assume that if this story hasn't already been essayed with cinematic perfection, it simply ain't gonna happen.

Which doesn't stop filmmakers from trying, and trying again. This week, two more ``Frankensteins'' hit the airwaves, a staid miniseries on the Hallmark Channel billing itself as the most faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel (making it useful for lazy English-lit students) and a contemporary drama, cribbed more from the film ``Seven'' than Shelley, which proclaims with unintentional irony that it is ``based on characters created by Dean Koontz'' (who apparently has no other connection to the project).

``Frankenstein,'' of course, is the sorry saga of Victor Frankenstein (Alec Newman in Hallmark's miniseries), more obsessed with the anatomy of corpses than that of his ostensible beloved, Elizabeth (Nicole Lewis). Stitching together sundry body parts and harnessing the charge of a well-placed lightning bolt, he creates life, and almost immediately regrets his achievement.

Meanwhile, his creature (Luke Goss, looking more like the brooding, goth-y member of a boy band than Boris Karloff's neck-bolted monster) wanders around the countryside, taking an occasional pratfall and an occasional life. Facing some heavy abandonment issues from creator Vic, he sets about making his pop's life very miserable.

Handsomely produced, ``Frankenstein'' does cut budget corners by relying on the old bait-and-switch - name actors (Donald Sutherland, Julie Delpy and a scenery-guzzling William Hurt) appear in smaller roles, while it's left to relative unknowns to do the heavy lifting. It also feature what has become perhaps the most cliched shot in all of cinema, taken from high overhead of a man (in this case, Victor) in a rainstorm, arms outstretched, distraught and/or ravaged by awe (guttural roar optional).

Overall, this production feels belabored (there's a compelling reason the story is usually told in about two hours) and rather too tidy given the material. For example, the bloodless, polite performances lack the requisite passion; for another, when we encounter a crazed Victor on his quixotic hunt for the creature, what should be his scraggly beard is immaculately groomed. Still, Shelley's tragic story retains much of its raw power nearly two centuries after it was written.

Set in contemporary New Orleans, locale of all things freaky, USA's ``Frankenstein'' sort of reverses the roles: The creature (Vincent Perez) is the good cop; Victor (Thomas Kretchmann) assumes the role of bad cop. Over the decades, Victor and his creations (yes, there are many) have been eviscerating random victims for organ harvesting to keep themselves alive, and they're essentially immortal, and some of them pretty much can't stand it.

These grisly crimes are investigated by a pair of cops improbably and unconvincingly played by Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg; Michael Madsen has a supporting role playing another of his trademark grizzled lowlifes.

The film veritably drips with atmospheric dread - director Marcus Nispel and cinematographer Daniel Pearl will likely get many offers based on this work - but otherwise just feels silly, because it also drips with lurid decadence of the sort that can almost, sort of, be depicted on basic cable. This ``Frankenstein'' has been set up as a potential series, but Sunday's film is less than, uh, the sum of its parts.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

FRANKENSTEIN - Two and one half stars

What: Miniseries based on Mary Shelley's gothic classic, starring William Hurt.

Where: Hallmark Channel.

When: 9 tonight; concludes 9 p.m. Wednesday.

In a nutshell: An exceedingly polite rendition; probably not the best approach to the material.

FRANKENSTEIN - Two stars

What: Updated version, set in contemporary New Orleans, starring Parker Posey.

Where: USA.

When: 9 p.m. Sunday.

In a nutshell: If the creep-out classic ``Seven'' was silly rather than scary, it would probably look a lot like this.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 2004
Words:660
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