Empty9-11 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, Dec. 2-4
Sci Fi Channel
So we can only imagine what the conversation had to be like at the offices of Sci Fi Channel when it got pitched this utterly bizarre homage of a six-hour miniseries. Were they thinking, "Yeah, that whole 'Wizard of Oz' thing -- it was good, but it didn't go far enough. It needed disturbing, hallucinatory, psycho elements that take it out of the whole children's fantasy realm. This is perfect."
Yes, "Tin Man" takes the beloved L. Frank Baum fantasy classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" -- which some of you might recall was made into a fairly popular 1939 feature film -- and transforms it into the equivalent of an acid trip replete with crazed sociopaths and one very scary sex-bomb sorceress. This wouldn't be so odd had it played the story for laughs, but this three-nighter from the spare-no-expense stable of RHI Entertainment comes across as strangely earnest rather than campy.
Say this for it: The thing manages to hold our interest in the same way it might were David Lynch to plan your office Christmas party.
Indeed, "Tin Man" seems more than a little Lynchian in its nightmarish excesses and surrealistic stylings (though the director is nowhere in sight). And while the preening and the chewed scenery from the cast are at times glorious to behold, there is no substance to wrap our heads around, no one to really root for. It's just a peculiar, occasionally arresting and wholly funky attempt to bring a measure of contemporary fantasy/sci-fi hip to a tale we want to be neither hip nor self-aware. But trust me that the thing is every ounce a thinly veiled "Wizard of Oz" update. If it only had a brain, a heart and the nerve.
In this story co-scripted by executive producers Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle, the majority of the action takes place in a realm known as O.Z. (as in "Outer Zone"). Then, instead of Dorothy Gale, our heroine is named DG. (Are you moaning in pain yet?) DG (portrayed with world-weary cynicism by Zooey Deschanel) is hardly the pigtailed innocent that was Judy Garland. She cracks wise and seems to have it all pretty together for a girl who is whisked via tornado from her dull Midwestern life to a land of oppression, darkness and a demonic vibe. Turns out the O.Z. is an alternate universe under siege by the vengeful sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), a megalomaniacal nutball with a taste for broad pronouncements, cleavage-revealing gowns and chest tattoos that spring to life.
In place of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Great Wizard of yore, in "Tin Man" we get the brain-deprived Glitch (Alan Cumming), a heartbroken ex-cop named Wyatt Cain (our Tin Man, played by Neal McDonough of "Boomtown"), a cowardly half-wolverine named Raw (Raoul Trujillo) and a drugged-out Mystic Man (or Blunderful Mystic of Oz), sitting in for the Wizard, who is played by none other than Richard Dreyfuss. This allows Dreyfuss to now list both "Tin Man" and "Tin Men" (the 1987 Barry Levinson classic) on his resume. Speaking of "Tin Men," all things considered, I'd prefer aluminum-siding salesmen circa 1963 to this crew. It's a no-brainer -- so to speak.
Anyway, as the mini moves along through its six hours, the group moves on down the Old Brick Road as DG and her associates search for the "emerald of the eclipse" that will free them from the sinister force enjoyed by the twisted Azkadellia. Of course, I doubt many viewers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to find out. Not even some eye-popping effects and a shape-shifter (Blu Mankuma) who goes back and forth from dog Toto to man is enough to elevate "Tin Man" above the level of wild curiosity. It tries to be way too cute for its own dramatic good, and director Nick Willing is powerless to stop his players from voraciously devouring everything in sight.
Sci Fi Channel
Imagiquest Entertainment, RHI Entertainment and Sci Fi Channel
Executive producers: Robert Halmi Sr., Robert Halmi Jr., Steven Long Mitchell, Craig W. Van Sickle
Producers: Matthew O'Connor, Michael O'Connor
Teleplay: Steven Long Mitchell, Craig W. Van Sickle
Director: Nick Willing
Director of photography: Tom Burstyn
Production designer: Michael Joy
Art director: Paulo Venturi
Costume designer: Angus Strathie
Visual effects supervisor: Lee Wilson
Editor: Alan Lee
Casting: Lynn Kressel, Stuart Aikins, Sean Cossey
DG: Zooey Deschanel
Wyatt Cain: Neal McDonough
Glitch: Alan Cumming
Raw: Raoul Trujillo
Azkadellia: Kathleen Robertson
Mystic Man: Richard Dreyfuss
Lavender Eyes: Anna Galvin
Zero: Callum Keith Rennie
Toto: Blu Mankuma