Dean Koontz’s Sole Survivor (2000)
When I was younger, I was channel-surfing and managed to catch a glimpse of a balding, bearded Billy “Caledon Hockley” Zane jump out of a window in slow motion just in time before a woman exploded the kitchen they were both in by flooding it with natural gas and lighting a match, killing herself in the process. That scene left an impression on me.
I stumbled upon Sole Survivor, the made-for-TV movie (or miniseries) adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel of the same name, which I have not read for the record, on YouTube and decided to give it a watch. Sole Survivor tells the tale of Joe Carpenter (Billy Zane, who shall henceforth be referred to as BZ), a former ace crime reporter on the anniversary of the deaths of his wife and daughter in a plane crash. As he visits their grave to pay his respects, Joe meets the mysterious Rose Tucker (Gloria Reuben), a woman who apparently survived the flight that killed Joe’s family.
For a hero, Carpenter succeeded in leaving a lot of dead people in his wake. Sole Survivor followed Joe as he would meet someone who tells him a piece of what he needs to know, leave, and then that person dies. Rinse and repeat. Dean Koontz is a best-selling author, and I know books don’t necessarily always translate well to the screen, but Sole Survivor just found itself as unsure where it was supposed to be going as its hero. I have read that a complaint of Koontz’s writing, Sole Survivor included, is clunky dialogue and that is something that unfortunately survived in this special.
I don’t think BZ was ever considered a great actor, and the fact that he did Sole Survivor only three years after Titanic shows he must have been really hurting for work. Despite that, he sleepwalked through most of the movie (whenever he was not in an exploding kitchen) as the film’s general-purpose government agent bad guy Yates (Scrubs’ John C. McGinley) chewed the scenery with his unexplained obsessive-compulsive disorder. The thing that upset Yates most having to reach into a garbage can to retrieve his gun after Carpenter dumped it in there. Those of you who remember 1996’s The Phantom may also remember why having BZ lead a movie probably isn’t the best way to go about things.
As this is a made-for-TV special, one can’t really expect the best direction to come out of the movie. An early scene involved BZ searching information about the downed airliner on a computer at his workplace (I guess he didn’t have an Internet connection at home even in 2000) and the camera cut between his hands, his face, and the computer screen. That’s one example of a scene that could have been cut together more tightly.
This movie dragged. Despite being in all three hours long (excluding commercials), the movie ended without a satisfying ending since most of the characters died as soon as Koontz decided they outlived their usefulness. The paranormal aspect of the movie only lead to a little girl, who was a walking, talking McGuffin who also caused Carpenter to finally have an arc in the last minutes of the special.
At least the special contained John C. McGinley, who was clearly having the time of his life as Yates, and BZ barely escaping an exploding kitchen with his life.