Worst. TV Movie. Ever.
Watching the television movie "The Langoliers" is much like watching Tiger Woods dominate golf. It is now ingrained so deeply in my soul, I fear the experience has been burned into my DNA and will forever haunt my unfortunate progeny until natural selection steps in and puts and end to our accursed suffering.
Based on a fairly goofy Stephen King novella, "The Langoliers" originally disgraced the ABC television network back in 1995. It has recently popped up repeatedly on the Sci-Fi Channel, apparently transferred there in a special magnetic field container since the rancorous stench of failure and decay that permeates every frame of this monstrosity must devour normal plastic videotape boxes like so much 18-molar sulfuric acid.
To be honest, TV critics salivate over opportunities such as "The Langoliers" like a fat man at a fudge convention. After all, there are only so many columns to write about how spunky Ally's new man is. Every now and then we like to sink our teeth into a steaming heap of awful and have at it. Thankfully, "The Langoliers" is an all-you-can-eat buffet of wretchedness.
The story centers on a commercial airliner bound for Boston. Midway through the flight, the people on the plane who were asleep wake up to find everybody else gone. They land the plane in Bangor, Maine, only to discover they're the only people left on Earth. Something is wrong with this Earth, though: matches don't work, electricity is funny, food tastes weird, etc.
Now, if this were Delta Airlines, nobody would even bat an eyelash, but seeing as it's some fictitious company that apparently flies from Los Angeles to Boston via Maine, these circumstances raise some suspicions.
It turns out the plane has traveled through some kind of time warp and everyone who was awake when it happened died instantly. Our intrepid little band is trapped in yesterday's Earth and something's out to get them. Yep, you guessed it, the Langoliers.
Back when I first read the short story, I was hoping the Langoliers would turn out to be some Old Money Northeastern aristocrats, maybe a Rockefeller or Morgan cousin, that threw demonic cannibal orgies at their Hamptons estate. No such luck, but while the printed version is far from King's best work, it's not half bad either. Unfortunately, the movie has a long way to go to be half bad.
Then again, while watching "The Langoliers" was a torturous endeavor at best, I did learn a few things:
Among the plane's survivors are a blind girl, a British SAS soldier, a punk rocker teenage girl, a whelp of a teen boy with seriously nerdish leanings and freeloading pilot hitching a ride back to Boston. Pinchot plays Craig Toomy, a psychotic junior executive. Quantum Leap's Dean Stockwell is some kind of nervous guy and Patricia Wettig -- you'd know her if you saw her -- is probably portraying some kind of female, that much I'm relatively sure of.
Why all the confusion? Let's put it mildly and just say that of all the actors that appear in this film, Stephen King is by far the best.
Forget mildly. The truth is that every single actor in "The Langoliers" believes that subtlety is a new type of Lexus. This isn't just ham-fisted scenery chewing, this is flat-out grazing. Wettig, who does for acting what Ebola does for blood pressure, can't even manage a convincing sleep let alone emotion that doesn't make Regis look like Steven Wright.
The eight-year old blind girl knows two facial expressions: vacuous and drooling. In the fine tradition of supernatural thrillers, she is "gifted." A telepath who also knows what's going to happen to the group, she spends the last half-hour in a semi-conscious trance, yet still looks more awake than when she's up and walking around.
Why is it that being disabled in the movies automatically makes you the most obnoxious human being within a fifty-mile radius? Can the Confucian haikus, sister: you're blind, not Shaolin. If I'm trapped in a life-or-death battle within the folds of space-time, the last thing I need is some junior Krishna cub scout waxing iambic about love, honor and Pikachu.
The crown jewel of the whole miserable affair is Pinchot. The erstwhile alien baby-sitter makes going on a murderous rampage positively hilarious: he's trying his darndest to be criminally insane, but dammit, he's just so cute and cuddly. Pinchot's scenes with the vision of the evil father that has tormented him his entire life make one wonder if he rehearsed them with a sock puppet.
He does, however, deliver the golden moment of "The Langoliers" when he's beaten to a bloody pulp by a toaster.
The film's dialogue flows like it was translated from its original Sumerian by first-graders and caresses the ear like Fran Drescher with a hacking cough. One almost expects it was lifted straight from a Godzilla movie, although the lip sync is much better.
One scene on the runway is a particular gem. The gang is trying to refuel the plane and get the hell out because they know something bad is about to happen.
"Hear that? It sounds bad." They all cock their heads. I hear nothing but the far-away screams of my last remaining brain cells begging me to spare them. The group looks out toward the hills. There's nothing there.
"Hear that? It sounds bad closer." They look at the hills again. Same shot. Nothing there.
"Oh my God! It's coming right for us!"
On and on it went. There were at least a dozen long shots of the mountains, each more innocuous than the last. That's because they were all the same shot. Could the producers only afford one piece of stock footage?
It's not like they saved money on screenwriters to pour into the special effects. The climactic scene, which features pieces of the Bangor airport disappearing into space, could have been done on an Etch-a-Sketch. As for the Langoliers themselves, four words:
Milk Duds with attitudes.
Yes folks, being witness to history isn't always fanfare and fireworks. For those of us who have seen "The Langoliers," the burden of watching what qualifies as some of the worst television of the past fifty years is heavy indeed. Yet I accept the responsibility and am posting this piece about an irrelevant five-year old movie not as a review but as a warning to the rest of Hollywood, for those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it.
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