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KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCKING ON BOREDOM'S DOOR 'THE TOMMYKNOCKERS,' SHORT ON GOOD FRIGHT

JUST GUESSING, but I suspect it might have taken horror novelist Stephen King about 90 minutes at his computer terminal to knock off "The Tommyknockers," the novel that ABC has turned into a mostly routine four-hour miniseries to run at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Channel 7.

I also suspect that one of his inventions in the script was written with tongue firmly in cheek. Was King poking fun at himself by having a novelist's typewriter frantically batting out a novel while she slept?

After all, King is so prolific that one suspects he would have to write in his sleep to produce all of his novels and short stories.

If you are wondering about the title, "The Tommyknockers" is supposed to be some kind of nursery rhyme, but I can't find any adult who remembers it.

This is ABC's second adaptation of a King novel. The network had notable success with a miniseries version of King's "It," which was written for the screen by Lawrence D. Cohen, who also is doing this one.

Unfortunately, "The Tommyknockers" isn't likely to do anything but put viewers to sleep until the final 30 minutes of Part 2.

That's when viewers discover where all the energy is coming from that is inspiring the citizens in a small Maine community called Haven to invent amateurish things like silver polishers and typewriters that work while you snore.

This King invention has obvious similarities to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." One by one, the eyes of the citizens of Haven turn green with energy. The energy apparently is derived from a mysterious object unearthed in the woods by children's novelist Bobbi Anderson (Marg Helgenberger of "China Beach").

Bobbi convinces just about everyone in town but her poet boyfriend, Gard Anderson (Jimmy Smits), of the fantastic powers produced by the pieces of granite. Gard manages to keep his guard because he has a metal plate in his head. The rest of the Haven community is seduced by the force, apparently because they have holes in their heads.

Gard is wary of the spirit in the woods and is fighting his own demons. He likes a different kind of spirit -- alcohol -- so much that it has powers over him.

The romance of Bobbi and Gard is one of three relationships that are minimally explored in the series.

John Ashton, best-known as one of the foolish cops that Eddie Murphy played with on "Beverly Hills Cop," reprises his role as a simple-minded cop. This time, he is sweet on a strong female officer (Joanna Cassidy), who loves dolls as much as her work.

Allyce Beasley of "Moonlighting" plays a
wife who needs Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis to investigate her philandering husband (Cliff De Young), a postal worker who is putting his stamp on a beautiful co-worker (Traci Lords).

In an addition to those adult relationships, King naturally puts in his obligatory lost-kids theme. In this case, an older brother inspired by his grandfather (E.G. Marshall) turns to magic and unwittingly causes his younger brother to disappear.

There is little in the first three hours that is magical. The adult relationships aren't drawn well enough to make you feel anything for the characters, and there isn't one scare -- even by TV standards -- until the final hour.

The one plot twist I enjoyed concerned a TV host who was able to speak directly to viewers watching his program.

I could almost hear him tell me, "Shut off your set and rent 'It,' " but I overcame that temptation to get on with my work.

The cast also may make you stay with "The Tommyknockers" longer than you might if you were solely relying on the script to keep you interested.

Smits, best-known for playing Victor Sifuentes on "L.A. Law," has the raw energy and sexual charisma to charge a role that has little life in it.

Similarly, Helgenberger is great to look at -- at least until she starts losing her teeth, which is one of the side effects of the mysterious powers of the granite.

Cassidy, Ashton, Marshall, De Young and Beasley basically are doing roles they could have -- and have -- done in their sleep.

With a fair amount of sexual dalliance in it, "The Tommyknockers" isn't child's play. More like PG-13.

Though the plot doesn't give you much to sink your teeth into, the miniseries at least has a decent ending.

It also is beautifully filmed, and the fact that it isn't ripped from today's headlines makes it look even better in a sweeps month.

In other words, "The Tommyknockers" didn't knock my socks off, but in today's TV landscape it would be unwise to knock it too hard.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

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