Watching a novelist work is almost impossible to make visually interesting, and only one of the challenges rattling around “Bag of Bones,” the latest adaptation of a Stephen King novel and the seventh involving director Mick Garris. Based on that collaboration — which includes “The Stand” and “The Shining” miniseries — this two-part ghost story starring Pierce Brosnan qualifies as a muddled disappointment, building toward an almost risibly convoluted ending. For all his success in print, quality TV versions of King’s work remain as elusive as definitive proof of the beyond.
A successful novelist, Brosnan’s Mike Noonan is wacky about his wife Jo (Annabeth Gish) before she steps in front of a fast-moving bus. Devastated, he spends much of the next hour grief-stricken and fraying emotionally, much to the concern of his agent and brother (Jason Priestley and Matt Frewer, respectively, in what amount to throwaway cameos).
Seeking consolation and perhaps the means to begin working again, Mike decamps to the lake house where Jo spent a lot of time, in one of those idyllic King towns that tend to hide big secrets. Much of what ensues occurs within said residence as Jo’s presence manifests itself.
Working with writer Matt Venne, Garris tries to sustain the audience’s interest through a lot of cheap jump-out-at-you moments and eerie dreams, but that’s mostly in lieu of narrative momentum, a drawback that becomes increasingly apparent by the second hour.
Eventually, Mike meets an alluring woman, Mattie (Melissa George), who along with her young daughter is being harassed by her wizened father-in-law, Max Devore (William Schallert), for reasons that become clear in the frenetic second hour. This allows Mike to play the white knight, when he isn’t talking to his late wife via refrigerator magnets.
Without giving too much away, the wider plot involves long-ago events revealed to Mike in visions, though the juxtaposition between fantasy and reality is handled awkwardly at best. And while it’s nice to see the 89-year-old Schallert sink his teeth into this bad-guy role, Brosnan occupies so much screen time (often in scenes where he’s alone in the house) almost nobody else in the cast registers.
For A&E, of course, the King name alone probably insures an audience that will validate its investment. Yet as anyone who read and then saw “Pet Sematary” can attest, not all King’s material translates, and “Bag of Bones” (a title derived from what’s said to be a Thomas Hardy quote about the schism between real people and fictional characters) might fall into that category.
Whether it does or not, the net effect is drearily familiar — another King production that begins with glimmers of promise and winds up being bad to the “Bones.”