With a few exceptions (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand By Me), it has proven notoriously difficult to make a quality screen entertainment out of Stephen King’s novels. I think 11.22.63 is King’s best novel since The Dark Tower, so when I saw the critical acclaim and the high ratings from viewers, I had high expectations for the eight-episode miniseries. But 11.22.63 is not, in my opinion, one of the exceptions - not even close.
11.22.63 stars James Franco as Jake Epping (or Jake Amberson), an English teacher in small-town Maine whose friend, Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), shows him a time portal in the closet of his diner. The portal has limited capabilities: it can only go back to the same day in October, 1960. And while a person can go back into the past and change history, that history is automatically reset if that person tries to go back in the past again. So to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11.22.63 (what better use of a time portal going back to 1960?), Jake will need to live in the past for three years and get it right the first time (Al tells him he’ll probably need to kill Lee Harvey Oswald to save Kennedy’s life).
But first Jake wants to save the family of one of his students from the father who killed all but one of that family on Halloween, 1960. The catch in both projects is that the past doesn’t like to be messed with and will stop at nothing to prevent changes. Changing the past is thus going to prove a major challenge for Jake, even with the help of Bill (George MacKay), a young man whom he befriends in Kentucky.
The first couple of episodes proved very watchable in spite of Franco’s unconvincing performance (I’ve never been a fan). But by the fourth episode, the wheels had fallen completely off the bus, with atrocious writing and directing that left me shaking my head every five minutes, wondering how anyone could turn a well-written novel into such amateur-hour crap. The production values are otherwise good, with excellent cinematography and a decent score, and Sarah Gadon is particularly good as Sadie Dunhill, Jake’s love interest in the past. But the story is so poorly told (you know you’re in trouble when time travel is one of the more credible parts of the plot) that none of that helps much. 11.22.63 is a complete waste of time. It gets ** for Gadon and the cinematography. My mug is down.