In David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” and “Blue Velvet,” Kyle MacLachlan proved the quirkiest lead thesp around, and repeatedly inhabited an American landscape in which danger always lurked. So when MacLachlan’s character in NBC’s “The Spring” enters a small, remote town with a supernatural secret and overly suspicious police, one expects something highly unusual to take place. The surprise here, though, turns out to be that MacLachlan, while still especially compelling to watch, can play bland and normal as well as the next guy. Director David S. Jackson and a strong cast get this telepic off to a promising start, but lots of good setup ultimately leads to very little payoff.
Dennis Conway (MacLachlan) and his son Nick (Joseph Cross) are on a road trip when they encounter a couple whose car has gone off the road. After helping, father and son discover a bag the couple have left behind, and decide to drop it off at the address on the tag. This good deed brings them to Springville, a small town with something big to hide. The Conways’ drive into the hamlet is the visual highlight of the made-for, with cinematographer Gord Verheul capturing the scenic yet menacing quality of the tree-lined, fog-shrouded streets. Philip Giffin’s music helps set the eerie tone.
When Nick breaks his leg in a freak accident the following day, the Conways are forced to hunker down for a while in the unwelcoming Springville, and a flirtation begins between Dennis, whose wife died years ago, and Nick’s doctor, the blonde and beautiful Sophie Weston (Alison Eastwood).
Meanwhile, the audience becomes more aware of the secrets of Springville, where the town’s healing spring water enables everyone to live in the prime of youth until they turn 100. It’s only a matter of time before Dennis finds out about the spring and decides that he wants to settle in town.
The story raises many philosophical questions that the telepic has no interest in tackling. Unfortunately, it skirts other dramatic possibilities as well. The premise would lend itself to varied treatments — there’s a Faustian horror tale buried in there somewhere, along with a potentially compelling romance that doesn’t generate any steam. Instead, the yarn focuses on the more tangible but far less interesting thriller aspects of the narrative.
The residents of Springville are deeply protective of their fountain of youth, certain that their town would be destroyed should the power of the spring become known. For that reason, new residents provoke particular suspicion, and the story leads up to a point at which Dennis will be asked to demonstrate his loyalty to Springville’s way of life, which, of course, has a dark side.
The teleplay by Jackson, J.B. White and Kathleen Rowell competently links all the essential threads of the plotline, but the thematic elements here are so dispersed, and the characters so fundamentally undefined, that the story bounds from incident to incident with no clear direction or effective suspense. MacLachlan does what he can with a nondescript role, but it’s left to others to catalyze the action or propound the lessons of the morality tale. George Eads gives a strong performance as Gus, the local mechanic who is approaching his centennial birthday, and Aaron Pearl is effectively creepy as Springville’s primary enforcer. The most meaningful moments actually come from the teenager Nick, believably played by Joseph Cross, who, in a throwaway line, sums what’s missing in Springville: “I like old people.”