`The Langoliers' Suffers From Poor Script, Acting


"The Langoliers," ABC miniseries, 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, KOMO TV. ------------------------------------------------------------------

Just as you can't have a TV season without Danielle Steel, you can't have one without Stephen King, either. Sunday and Monday he makes his annual appearance to yell "Boo!" at audiences with ABC's "The Langoliers." It's based on a novella by the prolific King which appeared in collection called "Four Past Midnight."

This one is a real turkey - although that comment probably won't deter the gazillions of King fans from watching.

Director-writer Tom Holland is in large measure responsible for this abysmal mess. His resume includes such films as "Fright Night" and "Child's Play," TV's "Tales from the Crypt" and writing the screenplay for "Psycho II." As the scriptwriter for "The Langoliers," Holland has strung together some of the clunkiest dialogue you're ever likely to hear. As the director he has encouraged his mediocre cast to overact shamelessly. Bronson Pinchot, for instance, is so over the edge in most of the movie that you expect him to self-destruct.

Begins with gimmick

King begins this tale with his own variation on the old "Ship of Fools" gimmick: Aboard an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Boston, several passengers, who have been sleeping, awake - to find they are the only passengers still on the plane. Everyone else is gone, including the crew, leaving behind their personal belongings, such as jewelry and watches. What does it all mean? And, more importantly, who's going to fly the plane?

Not to worry. It just so happens that a pilot, played by David Morse, is also one of those passengers who was asleep, so he takes over, but there hasn't been so much fuss over the mechanics of a plane since Doris Day landed that plane in "Julie" in 1956.

But King isn't content to just pursue the mystery of the vanished passengers (which is never satisfactorily explained anyway). He also has on board a certifiably loony businessman (Pinchot) whose behavior stems from his childhood: His father would threaten that if he didn't shape up "the langoliers" would get him. "Langoliers" seems to be King's term for those scary creatures that, as a child, you're certain are hiding under the bed or in the closet, waiting to pounce upon you.

Less scary

When they finally do appear, they're less frightening than crazy. The special effects that produce the "langoliers" are far less scary than what one imagines them to be, proving once again that radio is probably a better dramatic medium than TV.)

Add to this mix a novelist who writes mystery stories, a mysterious Englishman who sounds like an Australian, an unhappy woman who seems to be on the plane mostly so she can fall in love with the Englishman, a pair of teenagers, a dull businessman, an African American and a little blind girl who, to no one's surprise "sees" what's happening better than those with all their faculties.

None are given plausible or interesting characterizations by King or Holland nor do the actors bring much to their roles, with the exception of Dean Stockwell who makes the novelist a mysterious individual.

Morse is solid as the pilot and Mark Lindsay Chapman is likable as the Englishman, although the character is so vague Chapman probably wound up pretty much playing himself. Kate Maherly is charmless as the little girl, and Pinchot's performance is so weird and overblown that he's almost painful to watch.

Flight is bogged down

After "the langoliers" have come, and the special-effects people have had their fun, the movie turns once again to the plane and we get bogged down in flying through the Aurora Borealis.

King seems to think this explains everything when in effect it explains nothing and it ends with some chatter about time travel. That's a subject King needs to contemplate, for time has caught up with him. There isn't anything in "The Langoliers" that hasn't been explored more interestingly, more chillingly and far more succinctly in such Fox series as "The X-Files," "Sliders" and "VR.5."


------------------------------------------------------------------ "Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build a Bridge," NBC miniseries, 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, KING-TV. ------------------------------------------------------------------

Like "The Langoliers," "Naomi & Wynonna" takes four hours to tell what could have been done in two - but this dramatization of the rise to fame of these two country stars is a lot more enjoyable.

This movie is basically "Gypsy" with the Jule Styne score replaced by country Western. In her determination, heartbreak, trials and tribulations, Naomi Judd is a lot like Gypsy Rose Lee's mom, while the relationship between Gypsy and her sister, Baby June, isn't unlike that between Wynonna and Ashley Judd.

There were times when I could imagine Kathleen York, playing Naomi, was about to burst into "Some People" or "Together, Wherever We Go," while it seemed reasonable that Viveka Davis and Megan Ward, who play Wynonna and Ashley Judd, might start singing "If Mamma Was Married."

All of which proves there's very little new to be said about making it big in showbiz - we all know it's a long trail of hard work and heartbreak. Considering how often this same old story has been dramatized, it's surprising there's still anyone willing to take it up as a career.

York and Davis don't look exactly like Naomi and Wynonna but they perform with such enthusiasm and look so convincing as country-music stars, under Bobby Roth's direction, that it's easy to accept them as the real thing, for all but their staunchest fans.

Naomi is producer

Naomi Judd served as one of the film's producers, and Rama Laurie Stagner based the script on Naomi's best-seller about the Judds' career, so we get a pretty noble Mamma Judd. (You also get the feeling no one wanted to cut a single minute of their lives and there's a lot of dull traipsing back and forth between California, Tennessee and Kentucky which mostly amounts to filler.)

Mamma Judd's opinion of Wynonna is that she was a real heller - but she could sing like nobody's business. And, as is the case with most showbiz biopix, when "Naomi and Wynonna" concentrates on the two as performers - and a great many of the Judds' hit recordings are featured, which the two stars lip-sync to - this miniseries is fun to hear as well as watch.


------------------------------------------------------------------ "The Rockford Files: A Blessing in Disguise," "CBS Sunday Movie," 9 p.m. KSTW-TV. ------------------------------------------------------------------

James Garner is back for a second time this season, reprising his role as L.A. private detective Jim Rockford in a film as funny and entertaining as the previous one was dull and tedious. This is the Jim Rockford of old in an episode that has all the pizazz of the series at its best.

Stephen J. Cannell wrote the script which has a plum part for Stuart Margolin as the ever-devious Angel Martin. This time he's an unlikely TV evangelist involved in a scam that has his followers picketing movies in order to improve the grosses.

But the plot, while workable, is mainly a peg upon which to hang a series of lively performances, especially Renee O'Connor as a naive young actress who has a starring role in "Little Ezekial," a character and a movie that both fascinate and astound Rockford who has never met anyone quite like her. O'Connor is a delight and it's also a delight that Cannell doesn't try to whip up some phony romance between the two.

Plenty of fun

Margolin has never had so much fun as he has here playing the evangelist, and director Jeannot Szwarc has peopled the rest of the movie with a rich stew of unsavory showbiz types. There's also a wonderful TV talk-show sequence involving Morton Downey Jr. that's almost too real.

And, of course, there's Garner himself, hitting his old stride right on the mark. Like Falk as "Columbo," Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher and Garner as Rockford, the roles and the actors have become one.