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TV REVIEWS : 'Tommyknockers' Takes a Shallow Dive on ABC

May 08, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN

ABC's two-part "The Tommyknockers" may not be the lamest Stephen King screen adaptation to date, but it's pretty close. One of the author's lesser novels has been dumbed down exponentially for TV and put through a deflavorizer to remove every iota of the black humor and pop-culture satire that usually make even the silliest King sufferable.

The personality-devouring aliens of the title seem to have gotten to the folks who made this movie, too.

"The Tommyknockers" (airing at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is even more a Waring blender of fantasy antecedents than usual for King. The idea of the long-buried UFO being dug up is right out of "The Thing"; its effect on the unsuspecting townspeople, slowly turned into a league of malevolent conformists, comes via "Body Snatchers," of course; the way the otherworldly force can possess machinery or dolls blatantly recalls several "Twilight Zones."

Amid all this heavy lifting, there's one attempt at a psychological twist here. Contact with the unearthed craft makes the residents of Haven, Me., smarter, more creative and euphoric. The addictiveness of their empowering close encounter is set against the more literal struggle with alcoholism that the hero, Gard Anderson (Jimmy Smits), is undergoing. Can he stay on the wagon long enough to keep his townsfolk off the spaceship?

It seems that besides a drinking problem, Gard also has a plate in his head that keeps him from being affected by the glowing green lights wielding unearthly influence on his girlfriend Bobbi (Marg Helgenberger), whose pooch is first to unearth the UFO in the woods.

Other residents soon fall under the spacey sway, none enjoying a more profound character transformation than Traci Lords--who, as the town postmaster, begins the movie as a nymphomaniacal vixen who applies too much lipstick and ends it as a nymphomaniacal vixen who kills people with a lipstick-shaped cosmic ray gun. At least Lords seems to know she's playing this for laughs, but there's not a moment's indication that director John Power does.

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