I'm generally not a fan of Stephen King. I like The Shining... I'm sorry, Stanley Kubrick's bastardized version of The Shining. I am a big big sucker for Creepshow, and I kinda like Cat's Eye again. And of course, The Dead Zone. At least, until we sat down and watched it again. Does that ever happen to you? The memory you have of a movie is better than the movie itself? Well, in the case of The Dead Zone it's not a total reversal, just a little slippage.
For example, names. Christopher Walken plays a guy named... Johnny Smith? Oh, puh-leeze. Gag. On the other hand, he could've been named Jack or Frank, as 95% of all movie men are. As you may recall, he has a horrible car accident at the beginning of the movie and falls into a coma for five years. Just go with it. So the odds are with Johnny Smith so far. And not to give too much away, Johnny discovers he has psychic powers, so this movie may seem a bit antequated today with the overflooded market of psychic documentaries, talk show appearances and reality-show game shows.
Casting: Dreyfus as the somber doctor that escapes Nazi Germany? No, no. Sorry, can't accept it. ...well, okay. We'll let Shahbandar get away with this one. Cronenberg apparently uses some of his regulars in this one. I'm not up on my Cronenberg, I confess, so the only one I recognized was the philandering member of the liberal media who gets blackmailed by the rising Senator. Not that he needed to get his own hands dirty, just to scare the guy a little bit. ...nope, can't find him. Peter Dvorsky maybe? And the guy who plays Martin Sheen's ruthless henchman, keep an eye out for him. If nothing else, he's got a great future as a comedic sidekick; did he get to ad-lib his lines? Seemed like it. He was just that good.
Story construction: As with Quick Change, the dialogue gets a little wooden at times which constricts some of the performances at times. My close personal friend whose opinion I trust, who was the one who taped the movie, was trashing the movie the most! Soap opera, they called it. And they didn't believe it when Johnny's ex-fiance, now married with a child, goes over to see Johnny to have post-coma sex. They found the scene unbelievable, and I had my doubts, but I missed that one issue of Maxim magazine that had something about coma sex on the cover. "Coma Sex!!" I think it was called. Even Larry David would admit, it seems to be what the situation calls for. Me myself, I found the transition a little jarring when Johnny goes from deciding to do something about the corrupt senator, to getting the assault rifle, but I'll be the first to admit that it's just me. I'm not the assault rifle kind of guy. But I mention story construction because the movie does in retrospect seem like three short films strung together with fade-outs and fade-ins! Or maybe I'm thinking of Cat's Eye. Maybe it's because Skerritt is just in the one short film.
Even I must admit, of course, that it is one of Walken's best performances. These days he just seems to be parodying himself, but here he has some genuine moments. For example, when he tells Dr. Weizak that he's scared. The other one I thought was great was when he says to Zerbe "Don't you know who I am?" and he replies "Yes, but I didn't hire you for your fortune telling abilities..." Great scene. I kinda liked Walken in Communion, but that's my own quirk. Haven't seen that one in a while, and I don't expect it on cable anytime soon. I didn't know it at the time, but it's one of the films that taught me the importance of a douchey hat... or maybe Streiber himself learned that from Bob Fosse, who knows.
And of course, from IMDb Trivia: Before the accident, Johnny instructs his class to read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Christopher Walken would later go on to play the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999). You know, it's that kind of connection that can bring a lesser man to tears.
So, what kind of note to end this review on? I must've missed something. As for the ending, well, it's definitely STILL not your typical Hollywood ending. Was that too much of a spoiler? Probably too much of a tangent, but it's almost like the new-age ending of The Dark Crystal, but it's tame compared to the endings of Crone's other films, especially Scanners and more especially The Fly. But given my limited knowledge, I think it was one of the first films to risk the notion of the death of the protagonist for the greater good. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is an example of a film where the protagonist chooses to take a fall, specifically to piss off the prison warden.
So, Kudos to you, The Dead Zone, and I look forward to seeing you again in another ten years or so.
-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan