#19 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.
It does not surprise me that this thinly veiled pilot for a potential television show didn’t lead to anything. It’s essentially “cop who doesn’t follow the rules” clichés mixed with “generic psychic” to pretty much outright embarrassing results. What makes it even worse, in my mind, is that Wes Craven not only directed this, he co-wrote it (with Thomas Baum), and even executive produced it. This was his baby, and it’s awful. Maybe not as awful as Shocker, which is not saying much, but still, awful.
Sergeant Thomas Mackey (James Remar) is a cop who doesn’t follow anyone’s rules, not even his own. He’s on the case pursuing the Spread Eagle Killer, a murderer who does in his victims by strangulation and then positions them in the spread eagle position before running off, never to be detected. Into this is introduced Dr. Sally Powers (Loryn Locklin), a young, recent graduate in criminal psychology who obviously has psychic powers from her introduction (that the movie plays coy about for some reason for the bulk of the film). She has immediate knowledge of the middle name of Mackey’s captain, Keller (Mitch Pileggi), when she’s ushered into Keller’s office by Police Commissioner Dowd (Francis X. McCarthy), her foster father.
Mackey doesn’t like having to babysit a little girl on a case that he’s been officially taken off of but allowed to snoop into anyway for reasons. Hell, there’s even the dramatic moment where Mackey tries to hand in his badge and gun, but Keller won’t allow such theatrics, which is saying something since the first twenty minutes of this movie are pretty much solid with overdone masculine theatrics of the worst kind you could find in a cop show parody (is this whole thing a parody? It would surprise me to some degree, but not enough). When Mackey and Powers show up at the next crime scene, Mackey goes so far as to actually try and hide evidence he finds at the scene for…really I have no idea. He’s coy about it for a bit and then rhetorically throws it in the face of the actual cop in charge. I swear, Remar is a professional actor who has been putting in solid performances for decades, but I would imagine he’s embarrassed by what he pulls off here in Night Visions. It’s nothing but preening, and it’s honestly hard to take.
Powers decides to lay down in the taped outline of the dead body (seriously…she does this) in order to get a psychic reading (which, of course, Mackey can’t figure out for…again…reasons), and she gleans bits of information about the killing that will only come out in a post-mortem (which all end up being right, of course, because she’s obviously a psychic). At the same time, she meets up with the police photographer Martin (Jon Tenney) while moving in with some woman who works in the police department Luanne (Penny Johnson Jerald). Gee, I wonder who’s going to end up being the killer? Could it be one of these two minor side characters? Could it be the obvious one?
It’s about here where the idea that Powers is actually housing several different personalities in her head, and one of them takes over, steals Luanne’s ex’s motorcycle (an expensive looking bit of equipment that he seemingly just abandoned some years back), and goes to a metal bar (she looks great, by the way) where she uses her powers (I think I get it) to figure out who the next victim is. She figures it out, interrupting the murder before the Spread Eagle killer can finish the positioning, and Mackey decides to cover for her presence there for reasons (I think he thinks she’s the killer for a hot minute, but it’s dropped real fast and doesn’t matter).
There’s Powers crashing a Hollywood wedding in a swank house removed from the city where a sniper (presumably the same killer who is completely moving away from his MO this time for…reasons) where Mackey gets shot in the shoulder. Powers goes out with Keller’s backup to follow up on one of her visions to track down the killer, and what do you know? It’s the obvious minor character. How surprising.
This whole thing was obviously meant as the first adventure in the new unlikely pair of cops who solve crimes using psychic visions. It’s honestly awful. It feels like Craven trying to stretch out from movies, which, after Shocker, he seems to have grown really tired of, and into television, but his move is outright terrible. Sure, I like Locklin as Powers, but that’s probably the extent of it and, I would guess, has little to do with Craven’s direction (his direction of Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street tells me he had no particular skill with female actresses) and more to do with a young actress doing the most she could with little material. It’s not Academy Award nominee stuff, but it’s decent. Remar, though, is, as has been noted, awful.
Craven really felt like he was floundering the late 80s and early 90s, looking for a place to go after his success from the mid-80s had petered out.