"Langoliers": King's flight of the dumb

"The Langoliers" is a case of ABC going to the well of Stephen King novels one too many times looking for a May blockbuster. The well is dry, and ABC is stuck with four hours of an empty-bucket miniseries tomorrow and Monday night.

"The Langoliers," which starts at 9 each night on WMAR (Channel 2), is a premise in search of a story. Not that the premise is all that great, but it will do.


American Pride Airlines Flight 29, an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Boston, takes off with a full load of passengers. Somewhere over the desert Southwest, 10 passengers wake up from their in-flight nap and find that all their fellow travelers have disappeared. All that's left in the seats of the missing passengers are dentures, watches and assorted jewelry.

It's a nightmare, it's a mystery, it's a disaster film, claims ABC's publicity campaign. Mainly it's a disaster, as we are forced to spend 3 1/2 hours with these 10 survivors, who must solve the mystery or be victims of The Langoliers.


What's a Langolier? Sorry, you'll have to watch to find that out (though, I warn you, finding out is not worth four hours, or even four minutes, of your time).

The first challenge for our survivors is to get the plane out of the sky and onto the ground, since the crew is among those who have disappeared. Lucky them -- one of the 10 surviving passengers, Capt. Brian Engle (David Morse), just happens to be an American Pride pilot.

The other members of the cast who matter are: Patricia Wettig, Dean Stockwell, Mary Lindsay Chapman, Kate Maberly and Bronson Pinchot. Yes, that Bronson Pinchot, the one who lit up "Beverly Hills Cop" as an unknown, then became too well-known as Cousin Balki in "Perfect Strangers," and then just disappeared (not even leaving any wristwatches or bridgework behind).

Pinchot plays a driven corporate executive tormented by childhood memories of a father who verbally and physically abused him.

It would take a great dramatic performance by Pinchot for the film to have any chance of working. He doesn't deliver. In fact, it appears that Pinchot was at the top of his game as Cousin Balki, from the island of Mypos.

Stockwell has the most interesting role as a mystery writer who comes up with the theory that the plane flew into a time-rip, a hole in the flow of time. (Hey, you got a better theory to keep this cockamamie story totally falling apart?) Fans of "Quantum Leap," the former NBC series about time travel that co-starred Stockwell, are in for about 30 seconds of inside-joke pleasure as Stockwell's character explains his theory.

Outside of that brief reprieve, though, it's mainly tedium in the plane's cabin and at a deserted airport in Bangor, Maine.

Tedium, and a lot of creaky disaster-movie dialogue, like the repeated warnings from a blind girl (Maberly), who screams, "I hear things. Something's coming, and it's closer. We have to get away or it will kill us. Hurry! We have to hurry!"


Last May, "The Stand" won big ratings for ABC. The May before that, "The Tommyknockers" did pretty well for the network.

ABC should have quit while it was ahead.