Stephen King’s novella The Langoliers (in his collection Four Past Midnight) seemed like perfect fodder for a brisk two-hour feature. Unfortunately, writer-director Tom Holland (who later made the brutally bad King adaptation Thinner) served it to us as a two-night miniseries. The plot, a cheerfully nonsensical Twilight Zone-ish concept, finds a group of eight passengers aboard an L.A.-Boston flight wondering what happened to all the other passengers — and to the world below. As it turns out, the Langoliers ate them. If you say so, Steve. Some of King’s stories, like this one and Christine, make better movies on the page than on the screen. What can be funky and hyperbolic in your mind’s eye can come off ludicrous when fleshed out literally in front of the unforgiving camera (which is why Stanley Kubrick was wise to jettison the killer shrubs in The Shining, and why King was an idiot to put them back in for the TV version). Here, despite the best efforts of an FX team led by Tom Barham and Image Design, the titular critters look like what they are — computer-generated Pac-Men with teeth.
The performances range from lame (Kate Maberly as a blind psychic, Patricia Wettig as a woman feeling maternal stirrings, Christopher Collet as a music student, the usually dependable Dean Stockwell as a pompous mystery writer) to good (David Morse as a pilot, Mark Lindsay Chapman as an assassin, Baxter Harris as a perpetually hungry passenger, Frankie Faison as the movie’s token minority) to great. The great performance belongs to Bronson Pinchot as an unhinged yuppie. Pinchot, to my eyes, has never been less than dazzling — he even made eight years of that moronic sitcom he was on worth catching. Why isn’t he getting work these days? ‘Tis a mystery. But in The Langoliers, Pinchot throws himself into this yuppie dickwad just as energetically as he gives himself to comedy. It’s a beautifully sustained piece of rabid acting. When his character stiffs, though, so does the movie, which ends on a dippy “We’re all alive! Let’s giggle!” note that had me yearning for Pinchot to resurface with his knife and kill them all. The miniseries got great ratings despite lukewarm reviews and poor first-night word-of-mouth (“Uh, is something interesting going to happen tomorrow night?”), probably riding on the coattails of the previous year’s The Stand miniseries.