Before vampires and zombies ruled the Earth, there was Stephen King, the man who almost single-handedly reinvigorated the horror genre, in book, film and miniseries form. Along the way he also created his own personal algebra by which to predict the quality of whatever new project is in the offing. When one writes so many books, it is almost numerically impossible that all of them will be good, and some of King’s aren’t. But good or bad, most are adapted to film and/or TV, which requires a whole new set of variables. Adaptations of books requiring, as King’s do, the creation of a particular mood, are very difficult; when they work — “The Shining,” “Misery,” “Salem’s Lot,” “The Stand” — they work big, but usually they don’t.
And unfortunately “Bag of Bones,” which premieres Sunday night on A&E, falls into the second category. Although it is far from the worst King adaptation (would that be “Dreamcatcher”? “Lawnmower Man”?) it feels less like a ghost story than a dashed-together homage to the King oeuvre that’s slow where it should be fast and fast where it should be slow.
Which is too bad, as it has an excellent cast whose talents are too quickly lost in the story. Pierce Brosnan plays Mike Noonan, a writer whose beloved wife Jo (Annabeth Gish) is abruptly killed, leaving him heartbroken and unable to write. Haunted by nightmares, the surprising possibility that Jo was not faithful and a general whiskey-fueled ennui, he heads up to their house on Dark Score Lake, which is, of course, in a Maine town by the same name filled with the predictable assortment of slightly off-kilter locals. There he meets Mattie (Melissa George), a young single mother embroiled in a custody battle with her wizened and clearly evil father-in-law, the requisite Old Rich Guy in the big house who has a crazy secret.
Once in Dark Score, Mike, who has come for peace and quiet, gets very busy. He makes contact with Jo’s spirit, as well as that of the blues singer Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose), pep talks Mattie, takes down her father-in-law, goes for a few runs and tries to write again. Meanwhile, bells ring and records play, women scream, windows shatter and Mike walks in and out of dreamscapes, some of which are effective but most are not.
Try as Brosnan does, he cannot overcome the dutifully chock full story (adapted by Mike Venne, directed by King regular Mick Garris), which quickly feels like a Stephen King theme park ride. Some of the references are intentional — in the first few minutes, “Misery” and Richard Bachman (one of King’s pen names) are mentioned — but King has worn the “Maine town with a secret” motif a little thin and Mike’s rather casual acceptance of all the ghosties slamming around him is a bit much.
Although Brosnan brings a lovely desperate joy to the moment he realizes he is in contact with his dead wife, he isn’t allowed to do anything much with it, because he’s too busy dealing with the custody issue, trying to figure out if his wife cheated on him and unraveling the Tidwell mystery.
The original sin at the heart of “Bag of Bones” is a powerful one, but by the time it is revealed, in a shamefully Scooby-Doo-like way, you’re more than ready to get off the ride.
‘Stephen King’s Bag of Bones’
When: Part 1, 9 p.m. Sunday; conclusion, 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)