Even though this movie, filmed as the pilot for the 1990 television series The Flash, was only a mediocre movie, it's still an example of one of the better translations of a comic book to the screen. Sad but true.
The Flash, for those without such comic book knowledge, is the fastest man alive. According to this tv movie, he begins as a police chemist, Barry Allen, and is transformed one evening by a spray of chemicals and a flash of lightning. Suddenly he is given the ability to think and move at incredibly high speeds, although only in limited bursts.
Of course, we can't go much further into this review without mentioning the fact that Tim Thomerson puts in a celebrated appearance as Jay Allen, Barry's older brother and captain of the police motorcycle division. Jay's job of late is tracking down the Dark Riders, a gang of hooligans who ride around Central City blowing stuff up. You know the kind of stuff: cars, buildings, policemen.... Unfortunately, Barry's family makes him feel like he lives in Jay's shadow, because Jay is a beat cop and Barry hangs out in a forensics lab.
The writing in The Flash isn't going to win it any awards, but it follows a standard super-hero origin format. Barry is a frustrated man without the power to act on his impulses. When he acquires strange new powers, he is more frightened by them than anything else, and tries to get rid of them. Fate intervenes, however, and he realizes that these powers give him the responsibility to act and combat evil. Finally his frustrations are put to rest as he assumes the role of superhero. Many superheroes who begin as mere mortals have much the same origin story -- Spider-Man is a good example.
The cast is about what you'd expect from a tv movie and/or a film with Tim Thomerson included. No one involved has any reason to be ashamed, but there aren't any Oliviers on screen here, either. John Wesley Shipp is a pretty good Barry Allen, and he fills out the suit well. Thomerson dutifully fills in for the duration of the pilot as the ultimately doomed brother. Special mention goes to M. Emmet Walsh (of Blade Runner, Fletch, and Raising Arizona fame) as the Allen patriarch, who bullies his sons into becoming cops like himself and then ridicules Barry for sitting in a lab instead of on a motorcycle.
One of the best things we can say about The Flash is that the special effects are quite well done. The speed effects are not always the same, which is a trap into which many such super-hero shows fall. Amazement at a superhero tends to fade if you see them do the same trick over and over. Who cares about seeing Superman bend steel bars or crush a gun in his hand? He's done it a million times! The way The Flash uses his powers are relatively fresh and interesting, not to mention amusing. Kudos to the director for keeping us entertained.
We are forced to wonder about the tv series, which we never saw. Barry's traditional comic book girlfriend, Iris (Paula Marshall), disappears after this pilot movie, and her romantic role is presumably taken by Christina McGee (Amanda Pays),the scientist who helps Barry acclimate to his powers. However, the series as a whole was fairly well received, and even drew some fairly impressive guest stars, including Mark Hamill and Jason Bernard. (Of course those two later teamed up as space pilots in the interactive movie/game Wing Commander III, but let's not get too sidetracked.)
Some day we'd like to see television come up with a good super-powered character of its own; for now the networks seem content to either rip off the comic books or create disasters like Manimal, Streethawk, and Automan. Or here's an idea: how about a tv series based around a super-powered character who doesn't fight crime? Until someone gets really creative, we're stuck with valiant but hampered attempts like Lois & Clark and The Flash.