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Derivative 'Librarian' lacks real excitement

Noah Wyle has said he may check out of ''ER" this season, having grown into a dramatic hero who can call out for Chem 7s, CBCs, and intubations with the confidence of a George Clooney or an Anthony Edwards. His new TNT movie, ''The Librarian: Quest for the Spear," is his open invitation for post-''ER" work, his attempt to remind the Hollywood casting estate that he can act without a stethoscope swinging from his neck.

And he does carry this light fantasy adventure with admirable ease as a very un-John-Carter-like bookworm drawn into a heroic search for the pieces of a stolen relic. He has a mild-mannered self-assurance as he does the reluctant-hero-in-the-jungle thing, surviving waterfalls and collapsing bridges as the bad guys chase him to the heights of Shangri-La. And his side of the romantic banter with costar Sonya Walger -- who plays his less brainy, more brawny traveling partner -- is natural and nicely lacking in male gender stereotypes.

But beyond its value as a reminder of Wyle's appeal, and of his willingness to take risks, ''The Librarian," which airs tomorrow at 8 p.m., is not worth booking on your calendar. A heaping helping of Indiana Jones with a side of ''Romancing the Stone," it's too derivative of other movies to generate excitement. We've seen this kind of global chase before, and with far more entertaining plot twists, better scenery, and smarter effects. The movie's race between the good guys and the bad guys is about as suspenseful as an episode of ''Scooby-Doo, Where Are You," with all due respect to the Scooby gang and all things Velma.

Wyle's Flynn Carsen is a perpetual student who gets kicked out of school after obtaining 22 degrees. Needing to grow up and out of his mother's house, he takes a job at the Metropolitan Public Library, where he learns that he has become the guardian of a secret basement housing the world's treasures. His boss, played with typical wryness by Bob Newhart, introduces him to Pandora's Box, the Ark of the Covenant, and Excalibur, then sends him off to recover the three pieces of the all-powerful Spear of Destiny. If he doesn't retrieve them, the nefarious Serpent Brotherhood will take over the world. And we know they're really, really bad since they have -- gasp -- tattoos.

It all unfolds like a Xeroxed comic book as it tumbles faintly toward its final moments. The action plotting hasn't been carefully paced, as if director Peter Winther abandoned those concerns when he decided to tip the balance toward spoofery. Newhart is a welcome presence, and Jane Curtin has a few scene-stealing moments as a brusque library staff member who snaps at Flynn, ''Don't try to be funny. I don't do funny." But they get lost in the hovering sense of pointlessness. For his next audition tape, Wyle might think about finding a better property.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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