Strange and clever, “The Lost Room” is full of winding corridors, peculiar twists and wry, oddball humor, set against a mystery that recalls TV’s better Stephen King productions — before, that is, they invariably fell apart in the last act. Building on Sci Fi’s success with such fare as “The 4400” and “The Triangle,” this well-cast project creates a dense world of “object hunters” that should tap directly into the basic cabler’s geekazoid base, helping them to fill this relatively barren TV period by booking a three-night stay.
Peter Krause resurfaces after “Six Feet Under” as a befuddled cop thrust into a madcap universe, where a mysterious key opens any door, leading to a vacant motel room in some kind of parallel dimension. The room — which, we’re told, is an example of “physics gone haywire” — has existed since 1961 and initially housed many objects blessed (or cursed) with peculiar powers, such as an unusually lethal ballpoint pen or a teleporting bus ticket.
A single dad, Det. Joe Miller (Krause) obtains the key through a perp, then finds himself pursued by a parade of “object hunters” — some nefarious, some helpful, some just plain weird — seeking to claim it. It’s only when his young daughter (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s sister) is trapped within the magical room that Miller begins forming alliances with various third parties, hoping to find the necessary combination of artifacts to free her.
Following the plot is virtually impossible, but it’s nevertheless grand fun getting there. Krause conveys the right mix of determination and confusion, augmented by toothsome performances from Roger Bart, Kevin Pollak and Peter Jacobson as committed object seekers; Julianna Margulies as a woman who has ties to a competing faction struggling to gain possession of various objects; and Dennis Christopher as a police coroner who quickly becomes obsessed as well.
Based on the first two installments, directors Craig R. Baxley and Michael Watkins (working from a sharp script by Christopher Leone and Laura Harkcom) provide a brisk medley of action, mystery and humor. And without knowing the precise payoff, one senses not all the room’s myriad secrets can be disgorged in the last act, which, as with “The 4400,” could point the way toward further adventures.
This six-hour project also parallels Sci Fi entries such as “Eureka” that fulfill the cable net’s out-there niche with brains rather than brawn and thus don’t require a slew of Industrial Light & Magic fireworks. In that respect, think of “The Lost Room” as a relatively low-key affair that should inspire most of the audience checking it out to stay checked in.