"Stephen King's The Night Flier" is a provocative though murky thriller from the horrormeister that's heavy on gore and laced with more irony than perhaps intended. It's far from first-rate King, but his fans probably will feel it delivers the gory goods.
Best of all, it affords a big star role for Miguel Ferrer, a fine and distinctive actor.
Craggy, deep-voiced and rangy, Ferrer is terrific as Richard Dees, star reporter-photographer for a supermarket tabloid called Inside View. Actually, he's been slipping a bit, but he soon sees a way to get back on Page 1: A serial killer, in a black tricorn hat and flowing cape, flying a black Cessna Skymaster 377--it looks like an elegant giant-sized insect--starts landing at small airports along the Eastern seaboard, leaving in his wake a lot of bloody corpses with outsize gashes on their necks.
The film's point is to confront and overpower Dees, the total cynic, with the human suffering he has exploited so relentlessly in his career.
"The Night Flier," adapted by director Mark Pavia and Jack O'Donnell from King's short story, is King's jeremiad against the tabloid press. King raises a valid, currently much-debated point about where to draw the line in contemporary journalism.
But hasn't King himself exploited human nature's appetite for gore, and hasn't he benefited tremendously from the press, in all its stripes, in becoming a zillionaire writer? This blood bath of a movie, which bears King's name in the title, indulges in the very wretched excesses it attempts to criticize. There's a strong sniff of hypocrisy in all this.
Sardonic and commanding, Ferrer is pretty much the whole show, but Julie Entwistle, in her film debut, makes a firm impression as a rookie reporter whom Dees both insults and underestimates. Dan Monahan is fine as their editor, who loves his job with unashamed relish, and so is Michael Moss in the title role.
The film, which has a number of loose ends, is sleek but so dark you sometimes have a hard time seeing what's going on. In some scenes that's a blessing.
* MPAA rating: R, for horror violence, gore and strong language. Times guidelines: The film's grisly elements, though familiar enough, are in large quantity.
'Stephen King's The Night Flier'
Miguel Ferrer: Richard Dees
Julie Entwistle: Katherine Blair
Dan Monahan: Merton Morrison
Dwight Renfield: Michael H. Moss
A New Line Cinema of a New Amsterdam Entertainment Inc. presentation in association with Stardust International, Ltd. & Medusa Film SpA. Director Mark Pavia. Producers Richard P. Rubinstein and Mitchell Galin. Executive producer David Kappes. Screenplay by Pavia and Galin. Cinematographer David Connell. Editor Elizabeth Schwartz. Costumes Pauline White. Music Brian Keane. Production designer Burton Rencher. Set designer Andrew Menzies. Set decorator Timothy Smithwick Stepeck. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
* In general release.