Mike Noonan learns the secret of Dark Score Lake before he gets beaten up by a tree. No, that was not a joke...

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Screenplay: Matt Venne

Director Mick Garris

At the end of "Bag of Bones Part 1," we left Pierce Brosnan's Mike Noonan as he struggled with a mud covered apparition of a young girl in his bathtub who was convinced that she was drowning. After a few more moments of uncomfortable splashing, Mike's housekeeper, Brenda walks in on him and the ghost is gone. It's a dull resolution to a lame cliffhanger.

And faster than you can say "lay some exposition on me!," Brenda fills Mike in about what it means to go "Dark Score Crazy" here at tranquil Dark Score Lake. The short version is that several members of the town's prominent families have been known to suddenly snap and drown their daughters.

I wonder if screenwriter Matt Venne and director Mick Garris realized how unintentionally funny some of these scenes would play while they were adapting Stephen King's original "Bag of Bones" novel. An early sequence in Part 2 features a raccoon that jumps at Mike as if the critter escaped from the set of "Furry Vengeance." And it's far from the only hilarious moment of a miniseries that was clearly not meant to be a comedy.
In the previous installment, Mike encountered a young mother named Mattie Devore (Melissa George) and her daughter, Kyra (Caitlin Carmichael). Mattie's husband went a little Dark Score Crazy, so Mattie had to shoot him in order to save their daughter. Ever since then, Mattie's rich and powerful father-in-law, Max Devore (William Schallert) has been suing to gain custody of Kyra (secretly so he could drown her himself). When Mattie shows up early in this installment, she excitedly tells Mike that evidence has been found to confirm Mike's suspicions that Max was paying off the guardian lawyer in charge of Kyra's custody case… effectively ending it.

Along the way, Part 2 begins establishing the ghost of Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose) as the antagonist of this story. Prior to this, all Mike knew about her is that she was a young black singer in the late '30s who disappeared in Dark Score Lake. But Sara's spirit apparently lingers in Mike's cabin, which she thrashes while he speaks with Mattie. As for Max and his old lady enforcer, Rosette; they wheel up to Mike while he's jogging to threaten him again for getting in the way of Max's plans for Kyra. When Mike scoffs at them, Rosette punches (!) Mike and knocks him into the water, cell phone and all.

Way to un-Bond, Brosnan!

Soon enough, Max is all too happy to set aside his custody dispute if Mike drops the assault charges against him and Rosette, before taunting Mike that "custody has its responsibilities." Then Max takes a bath and allows Rosette to suffocate him, which could have been some kind of auto-erotic thing for all we know. Max was perhaps the most ineffective villain ever used in a Stephen King adaptation. Even from his first scene, Max Devore came off more as a mustache twirling stereotype than someone who represented a serious threat.

The pacing of Part 2 also suffers from some of the same problems as Part 1. How much of this four hour miniseries was just Pierce Brosnan chillin' in a lightly haunted cabin?

By the time we get to an extended flashback to 1939, the entire miniseries is nearly over. In the past, Mike witnesses his grandfather, a younger Max and their friends attack and rape Sara Tidwell before drowning Sara's daughter to silence any witnesses. Before Max kills Sara herself, she curses their families to drown any daughters in their line in the way that her daughter was killed.

What happened to Sara and her daughter is the most monstrous element of the entire story. But neither Sara nor Max and his companions are ever fleshed out enough to make them into compelling adversaries. Similarly undeveloped is the relationship between Mike and Mattie; which starts to blossom into an early romance… right before Mattie is horribly murdered in front of Mike's eyes. It's also amazing how easily the characters accept the supernatural in this story. Mike shares all of his ghost theories with Mattie and she never even blinks. Instead, they act like it's perfectly natural to be haunted by your dead wife and the ghost of a '30s blues singer. Stephen King's Maine sounds like a lot of fun… if you're dead.

Mike eventually figures out that Sara's ghost is still driving the families to kill Kyra… and he also works out that the ghost of his wife, Jo (Annabeth Gish) has been slipping him messages in his new novel; which was actually the most clever part of the entire story. But it probably worked better in the original novel.

Unfortunately, events progress to true insanity when Mike races to uncover the bodies of Sara and her daughter before he is beaten up by a Sara-possessed tree. That is not a euphemism. The tree actually throws punches at Mike and it came out ahead on the ringside judges' scorecards. That was hysterical, but again… I doubt the climatic confrontation was meant to inspire laughter.

The ending implies that Mike is going to take care Kyra as his own daughter, but much like Mike's relationship with Mattie, his time with Kyra is extremely underserved in the story. The extent of their connection is that Mike pulls Kyra out of the street, reads her a bedtime story and shares a few dreams with her. Fewer scenes of Mike at the cabin and more interaction with both Mattie and Kyra could have fleshed out all three relationships. Instead, they remain fairly unconvincing.

The greatest weakness of "Bag of Bones" is that it seems to be too intent upon maintaining the pace of King's novel to the detriment of the onscreen story. If the miniseries had been condensed into a two hour film, then some of its flaws could have been overlooked. But that wouldn't have solved the problems of the unconvincing villains and a few questionable casting decisions. Brosnan escapes with reputation intact, but several of his costars aren't quite as lucky.

"Bag of Bones" wasn't a complete failure, as it apparently did draw in a  large audience for A&E. But the miniseries was ultimately just as hollow as the Great Lady Tree.

Crave Online Rating: 6 out of 10.