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Hurricane Andre Blows In for Sweeps

Who communicates through TV, is a huge pain in the butt and keeps repeating, “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away”?

No, besides House prosecutors of President Clinton.

The answer is Andre Linoge, whose appearance at the wintry start of “Stephen King’s Storm of the Century” promptly yields the grisly death of a sweet old 80ish dearie whose doughy face is framed by white hair as she watches a weathercast by a cozy fire in her house on Little Tall Island, a finger of land off the coast of Maine.

As the wind shrieks outside, she rises slowly from her tea and plate of cookies to answer the doorbell while leaning on her walker. Then whack, whack-whack-whack!

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And that’s just the beginning for this diverting but stretched-out ABC three-nighter that whips up another King hurricane of the supernatural. Soon the island is isolated from the mainland by a storm of biblical size that has its 200 remaining residents nervously huddling in their town hall, as minds are possessed and bodies accumulate like artificial snowflakes.

How diabolical--and omnipotent--is the black-capped, pea-coated Linoge, a stranger whose cane handle is a silver wolf’s head, and who can make townspeople gush blood (kids don’t try this at home) and do themselves harm? You get the picture when his eyes glow red.

This is a no-brainer. Give him what he wants, and good riddance. But what does he want? King, in only the second story he has written for TV, wants you chewing on that until a climactic town meeting about 40 minutes before the closing credits. If thinking nimbly, though, you may figure it out well before the end of Part 2.

Time for another Ratings Sweeps of the Century, an ABC call to arms that King, the hugely successful and prolific novelist, has answered many times, always with more triumphant Nielsens than creative marks. With its TV-sized special effects, low humming suspense and disappointing payoff, “Storm of the Century” promises the same outcome.

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When adapted for TV, King has never been as terrifying or compelling as on the printed page. In 1997, ABC aired a sweeps remake of “The Shining” that plodded across nearly six hours of winter on snowshoes. Even less arresting were “The Stand” in 1994, “The Tommyknockers” in 1993 and “It” in 1990.

While entertaining at times, “Storm of the Century,” too, rises barely midway up the horror scale. If you’re looking for a major fright, in other words, look elsewhere. In fact, King’s best TV work was “Golden Years,” his 1991 summer series on CBS that stressed inky enigma over terror.

Meanwhile, are the winds of sweeps blowing at gale force or what? If King’s storm doesn’t quite do it for you, weather maven ABC says it has something really, really scary coming Thursday night (preceding the “Storm of the Century” finale) in “The World’s Deadliest Storms,” an hour of what it promises will be “terrifying videotape shot by people who witnessed nature’s fury first-hand.” Count on KABC’s “Eyewitness News” to chip in with its own promotion.

Evil Doing From the Maine Man

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When it comes to King-created fury, the Maine Chamber of Commerce must have mixed feelings about its famous Bangor homeboy, who while calling attention to the state’s picturesque quaintness may also discourage tourism by making it the setting for much of his supernatural mischief. It seems only yesterday that a “strange and powerful force” was terrorizing Maine villagers in “The Tommyknockers” and that an equally evil presence was harassing a Maine hamlet every 30 years in “It.”

Little Tall Island advertises the same neighborhood, a place where constable Mike Anderson (Tim Daly) is also town grocer, and his wife, Molly (Debrah Farentino), scores the supernatural coup of the miniseries by getting through her harrowing brush with Linoge (Colm Feore) and Mother Nature still looking gorgeous without a brown bang out of place.

While bracing for the coming storm, townspeople swiftly find themselves at the mercy of Linoge, whose minimalist demeanor--when he’s not flashing a fanged snarl or reiterating his tiresome “Give me what I want” mantra--belies his delight in creating murderous mayhem and chaos through telepathy.

When it comes to closeted skeletons, it turns out that Little Tall Island is closer to Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place than Thornton Wilder’s Grover’s Corner. As much moral cop as assassin, Linoge sanctimoniously accuses Tall Little Islanders of being “adulterers, pedophiles, thieves, gluttons, murderers, scoundrels and covetous morons.” And he exhibits a ‘90s social sense when suggesting that several macho residents savagely beat a gay man because they were secretly attracted to “that swishy way of walking and that lisp.”

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Pushing the Plot With a Snow Plow

Why would Linoge, who could torment Peoria, Slippery Rock or any town he wanted, even care? Is this some kind of morality tale, with Linoge the bearer of God’s wrath? It’s a weighty thought, but one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny unless you believe the Almighty is a sadist. A more likely Linoge scenario comes from one of the town’s residents: “I guess there’s just something about us that just pisses him off.”

But enough already! Director Craig Baxley pushes this sprawl with a snow plow. In Part 3, when one character challenges Linoge to “quit dancin’ around it [and] tell us what you want,” you want to shout, “Amen!”

And anyway, why doesn’t he just grab it and go? Here is a guy so awesomely supernatural that he could erase the entire town by twitching his nose. He also appears to have created the historic storm that cuts off the island. He is either all-powerful or extremely well-connected in high places. And he has to ask for what he wants? Puhleeeeeeze.

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King has him announcing that “in a matter such as this I can’t take, but I can punish.” He can kill and ravage but he can’t take? Who says? Whose rule? Not God’s but King’s, you must conclude, because without imposing this goofy restriction there would no reason for Linoge to hang around, and no story to tell.

Finally, who is Andre Linoge, anyway? A clue: His name backward is . . .

ERDNA EGONIL!!!

Which means? Give me what I want, and I’ll tell you.

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* “Stephen King’s Storm of the Century” airs Sunday, Monday and Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).

Weather Alert at ABC: * Producers of ABC’s Wednesday comedies roar about the network running screen-crawl “Storm Watch” promos during their programs. F32


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