Given the apprehensions and acrimony surrounding health-care reform, remaking “Coma” — the Robin Cook novel writer-director Michael Crichton turned into a reasonably entertaining and prescient 1978 thriller, with the creepy theme of harvesting patients for organs — certainly seems timely. Besides, A&E already enjoyed success with another Crichton-related movie-to-miniseries leap, “The Andromeda Strain,” in 2008. Too bad, alas, that the resulting four hours proves about as much fun as a hospital visit, with an overlong buildup and too-limp payoff. Despite a solid production pedigree and capable if underutilized cast, translated into medical terms, “Coma” strictly receives HMO-quality treatment.
In a sense, strong ratings for “Andromeda Strain” — reuniting its producers, including Ridley and the late Tony Scott, as well as director Mikael Salomon — all but foreshadowed “Coma’s” fate, as the latest project follows the same formula, bloating and dumbing down the relatively spare, science-based source material.
The heroine remains Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose), a medical student who grows suspicious about an unexpected number of patients slipping into comas. She finds an ally in a dashing doctor, Mark (Steven Pasquale), who happens to be having an affair with a senior staff member, Dr. Lindquist, played by Geena Davis with everything short of a Snidely Whiplash moustache.
The elder staff is well stocked with recognizable names lacking much to do, including Richard Dreyfuss and James Woods as veteran doctors who worked with Susan’s grandfather; Ellen Burstyn as the head of a shadowy institute that doesn’t much care for visitors; and James Rebhorn as an officious administrator.
Still, Susan continues prying into what’s happening, placing both herself and Mark in jeopardy. And while that should be where “Coma” begins to perk up, as stitched together by Salomon from John J. McLaughlin’s script, the story begins to unravel at that stage, including a slow-motion assassin who seems determined to talk his prey to death.
“Coma” still provides a few arresting images of what happens to the coma victims, but there’s simply too much silliness in the overwrought second half. Moreover, the first part rather tellingly runs less than 80 minute minus commercials, which suggests some stretching was necessary to extend the mini over two nights.
It’s always puzzling when a project such as this — which looked good distilled down to a two-minute trailer — fizzles, though one suspects such a marketable concept could still be a winning prescription for A&E during a holiday week, just as “Hatfields & McCoys” was on History.
TV usually does well by tapping into collective anxiety, and health care certainly qualifies. Even so, “Coma” isn’t worth losing sleep over.