A small group of aeroplane passengers wake up mid-flight and realise everyone else has mysteriously and seemingly implausibly vanished- including the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendants! The plane appears to be without damage and there is no visible trace of some kind of struggle on board. Thankfully among those left there’s a pilot (David Morse) from the same airline who just happened to be on board as a passenger. But what happened to everyone else? And why is slimeball yuppie passenger Mr. Toomey (Bronson Pinchot) such a volcanically ill-tempered arsehole? Dean Stockwell plays a mystery author, Christopher Collet is a dorky music student, Mark Lindsay Chapman plays a Brit with a mysterious and possibly violent occupation, Patricia Wettig is a teacher, and Kate Maberly plays a young blind woman. Frankie Faison and Baxter Harris play ‘black guy’ and ‘guy who loves to eat’ respectively.
Some terrible FX and a few really poor performances take the shine off an otherwise compelling “Twilight Zone”-ish two-part miniseries from 1995. Written and directed by Tom Holland (the director of “Fright Night”, the underrated “Thinner”, and the classic “Child’s Play”, he also has a cameo here as Chapman’s employer) and adapted from a Stephen King novella (part of Four Past Midnight), you’ll keep watching to see where it all ends up. It’s certainly very watchable. Just flawed in a couple of key areas.
Oddly enough the title beasties are not only awful to look at, but when you think about it, aren’t even all that necessary. Keep it as just a “Twilight Zone” riff on the Bermuda Triangle kind of deal, and the film would be much better, if perhaps less faithful to King. Sadly, you still have to put up with some pretty dreadful acting by Mark Lindsay Chapman, Kate Maberly, and especially a disastrously unrestrained Bronson Pinchot. A poor man’s Sean Pertwee, Chapman is irritatingly cliché as the darkly mysterious Englishman who we know ultimately isn’t a bad guy at all. He’s also one of these Brits whose accent somehow seems put-on, despite apparently being legit. Poor Maberly is even more irritating as a sickly sweet, ghastly written blind girl character who not only comes across as insultingly meek early on, but also never shuts the hell up and then just ends up being a heavy-handed symbol. It’s really Pinchot however, who threatens to drag this one down. He starts at shrill shouting and frothing at the mouth and stays there for the duration of his performance. Playing a high-strung, selfish yuppie shithead he’s already stuck with an impossibly thin role, but Pinchot gives one of the worst and most unrestrained performances not given by Nic Cage. His casting and performance are a real mistake.
On the plus side, David Morse is well-cast and rock-solid as a pilot from the same airline who just happens to be a mere passenger on this particular flight. Although he seems to have the same quizzical facial expression throughout, Dean Stockwell is well-cast as essentially the token King surrogate. A mixture of Poirot and Stockwell’s own “Quantum Leap” character, personally I think the character would have made more sense as a detective or scientist/professor. Making him a mere mystery novelist is a bit corny.
A fascinating premise carries this unevenly acted miniseries a long way. I mean, how does almost an entire plane-load of passengers just disappear mid-flight without the remaining passengers being aware? That’s just one of several interesting things going on here. The FX are among the worst CGI you’ll ever see, but you’ll still want to see how it all pans out. I wouldn’t mind someone taking another crack at this with a bigger budget.