Director/Screenplay – Dan Poole, Producers – Daniel Adams, Ruthann Adams, Julie David, Karen Garst, Michael Garst, Jennifer Holder, Jaymie Hornberger, Ryan Hornberger, Edna Jones, Charles Minter, Dorothy Minter, Richard Otenasek, Sallie Otenasek, Brian Razzino, Denise Wood & Ron Wood, Photography – Marc Shap, Music – Gregory Tripi, Visual Effects Supervisor – Martin Whittier, Visual Effects – Academy of Art University (Supervisor – Shauna Lacoste). Production Company – Alpha Dog Productions, LLC
Dan Poole (Derek Powers), Derek Minter (Jay Powers), Brian Razzino (Bob Chase), Ariana Almajan (Tina Viccarini), Alex Baker (Kelly Hammond), Uriah Moore (Destroy), Steve Lichtenstein (Dr Lou Eisner), Doug Adams (Damage), Dave Ehrman (Deny), Frank B. Moorman (Ed Dennison), David Toothe (Bruce), Pete Rattigan (Dave), Chris Cotillo (RCI Security Guard)
Derek Powers and his cousin/best friend Jay are installation technicians for American Antennas in Baltimore. They are at client Randall Communications Inc’s offices when Jay sees his old flame Tina Viccarini working there. Jay later returns and gets in a fight with security as he tries to force his way in to see her, only for three guys to appear and blast him and his car with energy powers. RCI head Bob Chase persuades Jay they will drop charges if he agrees to become an experimental subject. Jay is given a formula and subjected to a series of energy infusions through which he gains super-strength and the ability to project power blasts. As a prank, Jay jerks on Derek’s cable while is up a tower installing one of RCI’s dishes, causing Derek to be zapped by an energy discharge from the dish. Derek comes around to find that he is now capable of running at super-speeds. With the help of a scientist from a rival lab, he is able to harness these powers and dons a costume to fight crime. Meanwhile, Jay is obsessed with becoming more powerful and pushes the tests further and further. Jay’s increasing instability soon pits Derek up against him and the sinister experiments being conducted by RCI.
The Photon Effect is the second film from Baltimore-based filmmaker Dan Poole. In between sporadic acting and stunt work, Poole had previously directed one other film, also a superhero effort, with The Green Goblin’s Last Stand (1992), an amateur fan-made film based on Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man. Poole returns with an original superhero film here, directing, writing and playing the lead role. Poole has clearly modelled his character on DC’s The Flash, who has made sporadic media appearances before in the tv series The Flash (1990-1) and as one of the members of the animated tv series’ Superfriends (1973-86) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-6) and the film spinoffs from the latter, while for more than a decade has been touted as a big-budget film property from people like David Dobkin and David S. Goyer, before the triumphal incarnation in the tv series The Flash (2014– ) played by Grant Gustin and as part of the DC Cinematic Universe played by Ezra Miller beginning with a cameo in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
The Photon Effect is an earnest low-budget effort and one where Dan Poole shows an undeniable promise. Unfortunately, the one thing that kills the film’s credibility is some cheap visual effects involving Poole’s superhero running at super-fast speed. The scenes with Poole running along the highway after a motorcycle rider look exactly like he has been filmed against a green screen and not very well digitally inserted against some live-action footage. Some of the other visual effects of the antenna tower, the RCI equipment in action, power vortexes and so on are much better. The film at least mounts to a semi-reasonable low-budget superheroic battle.
Certainly, there are many aspects to The Photon Effect that help it transcend its low-budget. One of these is that Dan Poole and Derek Minter play their central roles well. The parts have clearly been written to suit both of their personalities – Poole nails the commanding certainty and slightly hapless quality of the do-gooder hero, while Minter plays the stolidly handsome and cockily dangerous Jay with just the right quality. The only problem might be the way the script is constantly wavering and never quite gets the latter character down one way or another. One minute, Minter is an anti-authoritarian jerk getting in fights with security guards or pulling on the cable anchoring Poole to a tower as a prank, the next he is an apologist for the evil corporation, then turning dark and obsessed with becoming more and more powerful. There is one scene where Minter goes to the lab and demands to see his ex (Ariana Almajan) and, as she turns up, is protesting that he has changed while in the midst of beating up a security guard (Chris Cotillo) where you are not sure whether you should be applauding the whiplash sharpness of the dialogue and its irony or laughing at the inherent absurdity of the scene. It is that Derek Minter is a decent actor that the character comes out over these abrupt dogleg changes as someone likeable and sympathetic for the most part.
For the most part though, the film is snappily well drawn. Poole has an undeniable wit and wry irony in his ability to write dialogue. The major problem the script has is one of structure. It spends 45 minutes of its running time dealing with the not terribly interesting business of antenna installation (which Poole at least appears to have gone out and researched) before getting to the superheroics – it is as though Spider-Man (2002) or The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) spent half of their film in the laboratory amid petty mundanities happening there before Peter Parker received his bite from the spider.