Robin Cook’s ‘Invasion’

Watch out. The future has arrived, and it looks a little rocky in this overlong two-nighter from the potentate of plague, Robin Cook, that plays (intentionally or no) like a well-positioned jab at CBS (whose corporate headquarters in New York is called Black Rock). Consider that the bad guy here is a black rock that infects the entire world. Actually, it's a whole bunch of black rocks. Expect CBS to develop a mini on an Ebola-spreading peacock any day now. Mind you, it isn't always the best sign for a big-time sweeps extravaganza when Luke Perry is your lone above-the-fold star. He does a credible job through the first half of this four-hour sci-fi thriller, portraying Beau Stark, the first infectee of a bizarre virus imported from outer space.

With:
Cast: Luke Perry, Kim Cattrall, Rebecca Gayheart, Christopher Orr, Rosana DeSota, Jon Polito, Michael Warren, Louis Crugnali Jr., Castulo Guerra, Maria Celedonio, Neal McDonough, Chuck McCann, Bill Rose.

But both Perry and the miniseries go in the tank on night two, like so many of these two-part blockbusters that have obviously been stretched beyond two hours simply to fill the sweeps void. Perry spends the entire second half wandering around in an Obi-Wan Kenobi get-up, looking like something styled by Tim Burton and spouting doomsday platitudes that could have been lifted from “Apocalypse Now.” Beau knows insanity.

“Invasion” begins promisingly enough. A small, shiny black stone falls to Earth in Phoenix as part of a meteorite shower. After Beau is stung touching it, he starts getting sick. But after recovering, he acts increasingly oddly toward his girlfriend, Cassy Winslow (Rebecca Gayheart, from “Beverly Hills, 90210”).

Pretty soon, scads of people are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and all of them seem to have one of the darn rocks close by. As the virus moves through them, one of two things happens: They begin acting like studio executives, turning power-mad, remote and conspiratorial (like Beau), or they react like agents, screaming and flailing uncontrollably.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Everyone who is infected sports an occasional eerie glow in his eyes. It means that the rock is doing its alien metamorphosing magic.

Opening installment features some nifty special effects from Craig Weiss, who shows just the right touch of ghastly morphing and laser-driven weirdness without going overboard. It’s particularly evident in Beau’s slow transformation into an intergalactic freakazoid.

Cassy, who distinguishes herself by constantly running around in her panties, comes to the inescapable conclusion that it’s the rocks that are doing this to everyone. She may not be the brightest bulb in the three-pack, but she knows an evil UFO plot when it hits her over the head.

So Cassy joins forces with the headstrong Dr. Sheila Moran (Kim Cattrall), her friend Pitt (Christopher Orr), physicist Eugene Ochoa (Castulo Guerra) and Ochoa’s wife, Nancy (Rosana DeSota), and kid, John (Louis Crugnali Jr.) — none of whom have been infected — to figure out just what this virus is up to and if it can be stopped. A man from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta also adds his two cents.

As it grows more difficult to tell the resistance fighters from those possessed by aliens, “Robin Cook’s ‘Invasion’ ” starts to seem more and more like “The Thing.” Except that “The Thing” had the good sense not to tack on an extra two hours.

Rockne S. O’Bannon’s teleplay from the Cook story (Cook’s novel is being released simultaneous to the mini) tells an exciting, if derivative, tale in part one. (Think “The Stand” meets “Independence Day.”)

Part two is a ludicrously drawn-out search for an antidote as the world becomes infected. In the first 10 minutes of the second night alone, the level of infection rises from 105 million to 323 million. This is one fast-moving plague — ironic given the slovenly pace adopted by the film itself under Armand Mastroianni’s uneven direction.

Cook, who, with more than 100 million books in print, virtually owns the medical-thriller genre, appears to be branching out of his element by adding an extraterrestrial component. He should probably stick to viruses on this planet. God knows we have enough of them.

Tech credits are all superior.

Robin Cook's 'Invasion'

NBC, Sun. May 4, Mon. May 5, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Phoenix, Ariz., by von Zerneck/Sertner Films. Executive producers, Frank von Zerneck, Robert M. Sertner; producers, Randy Sutter, Stacy Mandelberg, Jeff Morton; co-producers, Rick Arredondo, Ted Babcock; director, Armand Mastroianni; writer, Rockne S. O'Bannon; based on a story by Robin Cook; camera, Bryan England

Crew: Editor, Scott Vickery; production designer, Donald Lee Harris; costume designer, Jacqueline Saint Anne; special effects, Craig Weiss; sound, Peter Geoco; music, Don Davis; casting, Susie Glicksman, Fern Orenstein. 4 HOURS.

Cast: Cast: Luke Perry, Kim Cattrall, Rebecca Gayheart, Christopher Orr, Rosana DeSota, Jon Polito, Michael Warren, Louis Crugnali Jr., Castulo Guerra, Maria Celedonio, Neal McDonough, Chuck McCann, Bill Rose.

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