Remember that ketchup commercial, the one where the condiment took forever to emerge from the bottle while a background singer crooned, “Anticipa-a-tion?” That ad comes readily to mind during the Fox mini “Dean Koontz’s Sole Survivor,” which makes the audience wait and wait and wait before pouring on the sauce in the last hour. This “anticipa-a-tion” should not be confused with suspense — it’s really just dawdling drama, a punchline biding its time with tidbits of exposition and brief, repetitive eruptions of violence and action. Some satisfyingly creepy moments finally unfold, and the pic remains visually attractive even while the story runs in place, but it’s a long haul to get to stuff we’ve seen on “The X-Files” many times before.
The story follows Joe Carpenter (Billy Zane), who is still grieving the deaths of his wife and daughter in a plane crash a year ago. When he visits their graves, he finds Rose (Gloria Reuben) taking snapshots of the tombstones. She doesn’t have time to reveal her purpose before some henchmen start shooting at her.
Intrigued, and apparently having nothing else to do, former reporter Joe investigates, and begins to believe that Rose may in fact have been on the same fatal flight as his family and somehow survived. He visits loved ones of others who were aboard, and discovers that they’ve met Rose as well, and since then they’ve been happier. But anyone who starts to explain why soon ends up committing suicide.
And so the story proceeds: Joe meets someone, that character reveals a touch more about the mysterious Rose and the apparently supernatural news she’s delivering, and then the character dies. Of course, what they reveal just confuses the matter rather than clarifying it. If one wants clarity, or at least a bare semblance of it, you’ll just have to wait. And wait.
As Joe gets closer to meeting up with Rose, the henchmen from the cemetery also get closer, and gradually they begin targeting Joe as well. These folks, from some unnamed government agency, are led by John C. McGinley (previous Fox mini “Dean Koontz’s Intensity”), who portrays this bad guy in an over-the-top performance, marrying the tired psychosis of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” to the sadistic psychosis of Dennis Hopper in “Blue Velvet.” It doesn’t work: It’s supposed to be exceedingly disturbing, and a touch funny, but it’s really just irritating hokum.
Billy Zane’s an actor with very limited expressiveness, but to his credit he’s just as convincing as an earthy Everyman as he was playing a blue-blood. His facial hair and frequent use of hats in this pic actually make his acting, which consists mostly of raising his eyebrows, a bit more subtle, and there are certainly moments toward the end when he delivers the necessary poignancy.
Oscar-nominated cinematographer Mikael Salomon directs and, together with d.p. Jon Joffin and editor Christopher Rouse, makes this mini look much more sure-footed than most made-fors. Screenwriter Richard Christian Matheson does a workmanlike job of spacing out the enormous quantity of exposition from Koontz’s novel, although it certainly would have been better to have condensed it all rather than stretched it out over a miniseries length.