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'THE LANGOLIERS' IS TOO LONG; RELIGION FOR 'ROCKFORD'S' ANGEL

The ABC miniseries "The Langoliers" (9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Channel 7) is set entirely in an airplane and an airport, but it just doesn't fly.

It crawls.

This is the latest and weakest of the Stephen King miniseries for ABC, which previously included the highly rated "It," "The Stand" and "The Tommyknockers."

Based on a King story from his book "Four Past Midnight," "The Langoliers" would have been much stronger as a two-hour film. King's familiar theme about childhood abuse is a repetitive journey in a sleep-
inducing four hours that is better dubbed "The Longggoliers."

The series isn't scary; the special effects are routine until the final hour, when flying furry villains with shears for teeth chew up everything in sight, and there isn't any mesmerizing performance to propel it.

It stars Bronson Pinchot as Craig Toomey, the least perfect stranger among 10 passengers on the redeye to Boston who survive a time travel journey into the unknown because they were sleeping. They have to figure a way back to a world that appears lifeless.

It may be damning the series with faint praise, but Pinchot is the most interesting thing about it. He plays an inconsiderate, crazed stockbroker who still can hear -- and be terrified by -- the success lectures from his overbearing father.

Early on, one of his frequent foolish fits is ended violently by Englishman Nick Hopewell (Mark Lindsay Chapman), a professional killer. The cast includes David Morse ("St. Elsewhere") as Brian Engle, the unflappable pilot; Patricia Wettig ("thirtysomething") as Laurel Stephenson, a schoolteacher seeking adventure; Kate Maberly of Britain ("The Secret Garden") as Dinah Bellman, a 12-year-old visually impaired girl with great hearing that enables her to foretell the future; Dean Stockwell ("Quantum Leap") as Robert Jenkins, a mystery writer who specializes in time travel, editorials and stilted language; Kimber Riddle as Bethany Simms, a rebellious teen; Christopher Collet as Albert Kaussner, a responsible teen; Frankie Faison as Don Gaffney, a heroic ordinary Joe, and Baxter Harris as Rudy Warick, a hungry passenger who provides comic relief. As usual, King makes a cameo appearance, in Part 2.

Several passengers pair up to fight their fears and others learn valuable life lessons. You can see almost all of it coming.

In an interview in Los Angeles, Pinchot had the best line. Asked if the character in King's novel who sleeps through the entire story is in the series, he cracked: "That's called the audience. . . . Come on, now. Just kidding!"

He just may be right.

Pinchot enjoyed being cast against type.

"I had always found that when I was doing a lot of light comedy I was pretty much of a stressed-out individual when I went home, because being light and buoyant and joyful for seven years and not being able to really have any angst made me kind of stressed out," he said. "I'm doing this and there's lots of violence in it. I stab several people and terrorize several more. And I was in a rather jolly mood, wasn't I?"

Richard P. Rubinstein, the executive producer who has worked on King's other ABC projects, says this isn't supposed to be a typical horror story.

"Basically, I think that everybody knows 'The Langoliers' in one form or another," said Rubinstein. "This is Steve's word for a certain kind of horror, a thing that bumps into the night. It's his image, but it's a representative sort of category of what I call 'friendly monster.'

"I commented to somebody at one point that this is in some ways Steve's take on an Irwin Allen movie. That there's a little bit of sort of an airplane disaster to this, with Steve King's slightly off-center perspective."

"Slightly?" replied Pinchot. Slight is the word for this miniseries, too.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5.

CBS battles King and the Judds miniseries on NBC Sunday with that old standout, Jim Rockford (James Garner). The latest edition of "The Rockford Files" (9 p.m., Channel 4) finds Rockford's ex-con buddy, Angel (Stuart Margolin), finding religion and then mixing it with old-fashioned Hollywood greed.

In a story line with parallels to the recent movie "Priest," Angel leads a religious boycott against a movie that only saves it financially. Rockford, meanwhile, has to save its star from extremists. He is her bodyguard.

Early on, Angel provides some laugh-out-loud moments, especially when he leads his congregation in a chorus of his theme song, "You Are My Special Angel." But the movie drags in the middle when Angel disappears for far too long, and its ending isn't anything special.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars.

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