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Checking Out "The Lost Room"

Ah, Sci Fi. We've had a rather tortured run, you and I. You make me blissfully happy with Battlestar Galactica and UK imports like the newest incarnation of Doctor Who (even if you did keep us guessing there for a little while if you would acquire the series), but lately your epic mini-series have been, well, less than epic. (Earthsea, anyone?)

So I was really, really looking forward to The Lost Room, which featured possibly one of the most original setups on television and a great cast. For those of you who missed last night's premiere installment ("The Key and the Clock"), don't worry as Sci Fi will basically be showing this mini around the clock. (No pun intended, seriously.) But if you're worried about tuning in tonight for the second of three segments, here's the lowdown. Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause) is your average cop going through a nasty divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife over their adorable little daughter Anna (Elle Fanning). When Joe gets assigned to investigate the nasty deaths of three pawnshop employees (who were seemingly microwaved from the inside by Roger Bart's The Weasel using... a ballpoint pen?), he enters a shadowy, hidden world unseen by the rest of the planet as various cabals do battle with one another for control of otherworldly Objects, ordinary items seemingly imbued with terrifying powers.

Joe comes into the possession of the Key, a motel room key that has the ability to turn any door into a gateway into the Motel Room, a mystical place where 40 years earlier something terrible and deadly happened to someone in that room and awakened the powers of those Objects. After what could politely be called a rather unfortunate misunderstanding with the Weasel, Joe's daughter Anna gets trapped inside the Motel Room and (poof!) goes missing into the ether, Joe is accused of the murder of his partner Lou (Smith's Chris Bauer) and has to go on the run in order to find his daughter (and possibly clear his name). But Joe keeps running afoul of the various other players in this deadly game, including wealthy collector Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollak, in a really neat turn), former medical examiner-turned-Object obsessive Martin Ruber (Dennis Christopher), that damned Weasel (Desperate Housewives' Bart), and Jennifer (Julianna Margulies), a femme fatale with her own personal connection to the Objects.

Throw in those aforementioned Cabals--the Legion and the Order--and you've got a serious overlying mythology for this mini-series (intended, as Battlestar Galactica was, to be a back-door pilot for an ongoing series). Night Two explores the origins of the Motel Room as well as delves deeper into the History of the Objects, a tortured four decades or so of wars, vendettas, double-crosses, and obsession. Look for Trainspotting's Spud, Ewan Bremner, to show up as Harold Stritzke, a socially awkward Peeping Tom armed with the Comb, which can stop time for five seconds. Along the way, Joe will begin to put some pieces together about the Motel Room's nature as he continues his quest to find Anna.

For me, I thought that the promise of the mini's scope and mythology didn't completely gel as much as I had hoped it would. Laura Harkcom, Christopher Leone, and Paul Workman's original scripts for The Lost Room showed such jaw-dropping promise (and mind-blowing detail to its mythology) that I was very curious to see how it would be produced for the screen. Sadly, I don't think that the produced version does justice to the beauty and grandeur of the scripts and the mini lacks any of the atmosphere and ominous tension that permeated every page of the scripts. It's still a fun (if perplexingly confusing at times) ride through the inverted shadow world of the Objects, but much of it seems static and lacking that noirish tinge that I had hoped for. I also found the pacing to be glacially slow at times, not just in the lack of action, but also in the direction of the scenes and the actors themselves, who at times seem to be sleepwalking through a story that they can't quite seem to wake up from. (Margulies in particular seems to be on auto-pilot here and her brief "romance" with Peter Krause's Joe seems completely out of place from the rest of the mini.)

What does save The Lost Room, however, are the strengths of its actors. Peter Krause is affable enough as the much put-upon Joe Miller, but for me the standouts really include the supporting cast, such as character actor Peter Jacobson's star turn as twitchy Wally Jabrowski, who enjoys zapping suckers with the Bus Ticket and sending them to Hell (or right outside Gallup, New Mexico; take your pick) as much as he does a good deli lunch. I was also v. impressed with Kevin Pollak's understated turn as Karl Kreutzfeld, the seemingly amoral Object collector who has his own reason to pursue the Objects (his child is dying); never once does Kreutzfeld become cartoonish and Pollak plays him with a sincerity and complexity that never falters. Deadwood's Dennis Christopher (who also played serial killer Jack of All Trades on Profiler a few years back) is fantastic as the obsessive Martin Ruber, who is willing to betray everything and everyone he ever believed in in order to obtain the Objects, as is Desperate Housewives' Harriet Sansom Harris, who provides yet another creepy, eerie turn, this time as Order cell leader Roberta Milne. Plus, the aforementioned Ewan Bremner and Margaret Cho (as Objects info broker Susie Kang). Whew.

It's their nuanced performances that give The Lost Room some spark and scope. Ultimately, The Lost Room is someplace fun to get lost in for a few nights, but it's not the compelling mix of action-adventure, noir intrigue, and supernatural/philosophical drama that I was craving. Still, with December upon us and the holidays about to come barrelling in, there are far worse things one can do with their time than check into the Lost Room. This is one motel to check in for convenience; just don't expect any luxury amenities during your stay.

"The Lost Room" airs tonight from 9 to 11 pm ET/PT on Sci Fi.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Gilmore Girls (CW); Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: 40th Anniversary Special Edition (ABC); Standoff (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); The 8th Annusal Television Awards (CW); Big Day/Help Me Help You (ABC); House (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); Law & Order: SVU (NBC); Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2006 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

9-11 pm: The Lost Room on Sci Fi.

It's the second episode of Sci Fi's epic mini-series The Lost Room starring Peter Krause and Julianna Margulies. On tonight's installment ("The Comb and the Box"), Joe must enter the chaotic world of Object seekers and tries to find out the mystery behind the Motel Room.

10 pm: Doctor Who on BBC America.

While Sci Fi might be airing Season Two of the newest incarnation of Doctor Who (complete with another new Doctor, played by David Tennant), catch up on Season One, beginning anew tonight on BBC America as the Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) first meets Rose Tyler for the first time. On tonight's episode ("Aliens of London"), Rose returns to Earth, but finds it on high alert after an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames. And just what is going on at 10 Downing Street?


Yeah, I was disappointed with "Lost Room." I agree that some of the performances were good but it definitely felt flat at times. I think the direction was really static. With that caliber of actors and the interesting premise it should have been a lot more engaging.
Anonymous said…
Did anyone notice that the money that "Joe" shoved into the bum's pocket when he retrieved the key was 2 Canadian 20 dollar bills? Good thing our (Canadian) money is almost at par!

All in all, having seen all 3 episodes - they were shown here all at once, I was disappointed. The acting was great but the story was disjointed & left me feeling confused.

Rhoda in Prince Edward Island, Canada

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