Young star gives this vam­pire drama teeth

The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY HANK STUEVER

“The Pas­sage,” a hokey but mildly en­ter­tain­ing drama about an ill-fated sci­en­tific at­tempt to har­ness the im­mu­nity of ra­bid vam­pires, pre­mieres Mon­day on Fox. It’s based on the best-sell­ing 2010 hor­ror-dystopia novel by Justin Cronin, which may or may not be rec­og­niz­able to its de­voted read­ers once tele­vi­sion is done rav­aging it. I see lots of bites and claw marks here, as if the novel was try­ing to es­cape a process that first tried to se­ro­con­vert it into a fea­ture-film tril­ogy and even­tu­ally set­tled on mak­ing it a mid­sea­son net­work show.

Hav­ing slav­ishly fol­lowed all four sea­sons of FX’s sim­ple yet sat­is­fy­ing vam­pire-virus saga “The Strain” (which was also based on a set of novels), I’m not one to stop a will­ing viewer from find­ing some­thing to like in “The Pas­sage’s” ba­sic ap­peal. It’s got a pulse and you can sharpen a fang to it.

It’s also got an invit­ingly heroic premise, as a for­mer FBI agent and war hero, Brad Wol­gast (“Pitch’s” Mark-Paul Gos­se­laar), be­gins to doubt the in­ten­tions be­hind an al­ready sketchy pri­vate­sec­tor se­cu­rity job he’s taken, de­liv­er­ing death-row in­mates to a se­cret Colorado sci­ence lab.

The in­mates have un­wit­tingly agreed to sub­mit to drug test­ing in ex­change for a com­muted death sen­tence and a cushier in­car­cer­a­tion. Lit­tle do they know the drugs will turn them into pow­er­ful,

blood­suck­ing crea­tures. These vam­pires seem cata­tonic when­ever they’re not be­ing fed a steady diet of an­i­mal blood in their hold­ing pens, but it turns out they’re able to com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally with one an­other via Pa­tient Zero, a hu­man once known as Tim Fan­ning (Jamie McShane), an ego­ma­ni­a­cal doc­tor who was part of the sci­ence team’s orig­i­nal quest for a mir­a­cle cure for dis­eases.

Good in­ten­tions are in short sup­ply at the lab. A new avian flu in China threat­ens to be­come a global pan­demic and the lead sci­en­tists (Henry Ian Cu­sick and Caro­line Chikezie) make an amoral, des­per­ate de­ci­sion to try in­fect­ing child with their vam­pire virus, be­liev­ing that a younger im­mune sys­tem will ac­cept and repli­cate the vam­pires’ re­sis­tance to dis­ease, with­out the nasty side ef­fects.

Wol­gast is sent to Mem­phis to re­trieve Amy Bel­la­fonte (Saniyya Sid­ney), a 10-year-old girl liv­ing in fos­ter care after her itin­er­ant mother died of a drug over­dose in a fast-food restau­rant park­ing lot.

Amy takes one look at Wol­gast and his part­ner and im­me­di­ately smells a rat: “How come there’s no so­cial worker?” she asks. “And how come they didn’t send a lady? They al­ways send a lady.”

As Amy, Sid­ney demon­strates re­mark­able pres­ence as a young ac­tress, as well as the wary look of a per­son who knows it’s up to her to give a fair-to-mid­dling TV show some real spunk. She takes off run­ning and it isn’t long be­fore Wol­gast has joined her, trou­bled by the idea that he was asked to ap­pre­hend and de­liver a child for test­ing pur­poses.

Once the two are on the lam, they im­me­di­ately dis­cover a “Paper Moon”-type chem­istry that could sus­tain an­other three or four episodes at least. Alas, “The Pas­sage” turns its at­ten­tion to far too much mythol­ogy es­tab­lish­ment — fo­cus­ing on ori­gin sto­ries, fill­ing in char­ac­ters’ mo­ti­va­tions with shop­worn flash­back nar­ra­tives and defin­ing the vam­pires’ pow­ers, all so view­ers will un­der­stand the full threat if the mona sters es­cape.

That ul­ti­mate un­leash­ing seems all but as­sured, thanks to plenty of blunt fore­shad­ow­ing. Where Amy and Brad wind up in all that panic re­mains to be seen (Fox pro­vided just three episodes for re­view), but al­ready I liked it bet­ter in Episodes 1 and 2, when they’re just two fugi­tives in a stolen car, eat­ing pow­dered dough­nuts for break­fast, win­ning stuffed uni­corns at county fairs and learn­ing to trust the sur­ro­gate par­ent-child in­stincts that are telling them to get as far away as they can. The Pas­sage (one hour) pre­mieres Mon­day at 9 p.m. on Fox.

EL­IZA MORSE/FOX

Mark-Paul Gos­se­laar and Saniyya Sid­ney star in “The Pas­sage.”

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