Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Dead Zone (1983)

Too bad.

The Dead Zone has a lot of potential.

Great cast. Intriguing story. It's based on a book by bestselling author Stephen King. David Cronenberg directs.

For all those strengths, this 1983 release is still a disappointment done in largely by some over-the-top characters, strange behaviour and cramming in too much plot.

Teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is badly hurt in an automobile collision. He's in a coma for five years. The woman he wants to marry, Sarah (Brooke Adams), marries another man. Smith regains consciousness with the ability to see the future of others. He bristles at the suggestion he has a gift. Johnny, for all he's experienced, considers himself cursed.

Scores of people write him looking for help with their own lives. He retreats, refusing to leave his home as he tutors students.
Smith decides to act when he learns a candidate for the American senate, Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), will threaten humanity as he continues to succeed in politics.

Walken is great. There's some nice chemistry between him and Adams. There's some strong support work, especially from Herbert Lom as the doctor trying to help Smith and Sam Sullivan as Johnny's dad.

But a plot about Smith tackling a serial killer and a politician hellbent on destroying the world? Too much. In an interview on a DVD bonus, Cronenberg disagrees with suggestions Stillson is an over-the-top character. David, I disagree. Stillson is hard to take as a realistic character. There's no explanation why Sarah is involved with his political campaign. Is she helping because her husband is a diehard believer? Does she share Stillson's views. We don't know.

It's refreshing to see a film based on a King book with a minimum of blood and gore. Watching Johnny jolt every time he gets a vision is unsettling. But The Dead Zone carries some dead weight that prevents it from being a fine movie.

RATING: 6/10

FOR DISCUSSION: What do you make of the religious imagery in this film? When Johnny wakes up, there's a drawing of Jesus Christ on the wall. When he enters his family's home near the end of the film, a wall plaque reads in part "Christ is the head of this home."

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