“You have the right to remain silent,” the big cop said in his robot’s voice. “If you do not choose to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. I’m going to kill you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?”
It’s been almost twenty years since I read Desperation and its parallel-universe “sequel,” The Regulators, yet I remember a lot about them. Why ABC didn’t make the obvious decision—simultaneously producing two television adaptations with the same cast—is beyond me. According to Wikipedia, the network practically sabotaged the movie by airing it at the same time as American Idol.
Still, I try to look past the limitations of a medium, but made-for-TV movies are so quickly produced you’d have to be blind not to see the problems. What ends up on the screen often feels like a first rehearsal and Desperation is no exception. At one point you can plainly see the squib jacket on an actor’s back after his character’s shot in rapid succession. I can forgive the camera operators for not noticing it on the set and I’ll assume the editors were under similar time constraints. What really hurts is that shot could have been easily trimmed to hide the flub without screwing up the continuity of the scene because the very next shot is in another location anyway.
What Desperation gets right is the casting of Ron Perlman and Tom Skerrit as Collie Entragian and John Edward Marinville. Although Perlman looks nothing like the Entragian I imagined (wasn’t he way bigger in the book?), he organically slips the “Tak!” catchphrase into his dialog with uncanny timing. Meanwhile Skerrit looks pretty much what I thought Marinville would look like, which makes him the least distracting of the cast. The best acting is when these two actors share screen time.
The movie is surprisingly chilling at times, but that has more to do with King’s involvement than anything else. There’s just something inherently scary about a psychotic cop framing unsuspecting travelers on a rarely traveled road in the desert. The helplessness and the isolation comes through despite Standards’ best efforts to censor the hell out of it.
I really like the director and I obviously admire the writer (King also wrote the teleplay), but I don’t have much more to say about it. The end product is so mediocre there’s no point dwelling on it. Read the book instead and watch the movie in twenty years so you can remind yourself why the book was so damn good. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed The Regulators will get produced for a Netflix miniseries.