One or two blips aside, Stephen King's output over the last 15 years has been decidedly lifeless. Which is why Hearts In Atlantis, published in 2000 and consisting of four interlinking stories, was such a surprise. Here was King firmly back on form, blending irresistible storytelling and masterful characterisation to remind fans how good he can be.
Unfortunately, Scott Shine Hicks' movie only serves to remind audiences just how often adaptations of King's work miss the mark. Based on the book's opening novella, Low Men In Yellow Coats, it's the 1960-set story of Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), an 11-year-old kid living an unremarkable life with his mother (Hope Davis) in small-town Connecticut. Then Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves in upstairs. A kindly if slightly strange old codger, he befriends Bobby and offers him a dollar a week to read the papers to him... and help watch out for the Low Men - a band of shadowy, menacing figures who are, supposedly, pursuing him.
To be fair, director Hicks and scribbler William Goldman (who did a much better job with King's Misery) do get some things right: Bobby's friendship/first love with school pal Carol Gerber (the excellent Mika Boorem) is lovingly captured, and there's an effective set-piece in which Ted takes Bobby to a dingy `downtown' pool hall. The story's King-isms - Bobby's burgeoning love of reading, characters blessed/ cursed with a sixth sense, an eye for everyday Americana that grounds the fantasy elements - are also present and correct, if somewhat superficially touched upon.
Too much of Hearts In Atlantis is lazy. Hopkins, for example, repeatedly wheels out his favourite don't-blink-as-I-gaze-into-the-distance trick to convey Ted'smystique, while Bobby's equally important friendship with Sully (Will Rothhaar, a dead ringer for River Phoenix in Stand By Me) is reduced to a handful of sappy slo-mo scenes. It's the sappiness that gets you in the end, with the glucose-drenched story bookends - featuring David Morse as a 50-year-old Bobby - - tipping Hearts... into a sickly sentimentality that even Spielberg would baulk at.