(CNN)Stephen King’s usual policy of selling the rights to his books and washing his hands of the results goes out the window in “Lisey’s Story,” which the prolific author adapted himself. But the Apple TV+ limited series lands in the shallow end of the King cinematic pool, with a convoluted story that mostly squanders its big-name cast.
The Lisey of the title is played by Julianne Moore, who watched her husband Scott Landon (Clive Owen), a famous novelist, be murdered right in front of her. But Lisey’s reluctance to part with his unpublished works irks an academic (“This is Us'” Ron Cephas Jones) who yearns to get his hands on them, and leads to unleashing a crazed fan (Dane DeHaan) to pursue the manuscripts.
Still, that only scratches the surface of the dense and time-hopping narrative, since Scott keeps appearing to Lisey, dispensing vague advice and cryptic clues about what she’ll need to deal with the threats she faces, exchanges that unfold heavily garnished by surreal and supernatural imagery.
Adding to the “ick” factor, Lisey’s catatonic, institutionalized sister (Joan Allen) — who is prone to cutting herself — figures into the larger plot, as do pretty gruesome levels of violence and the occasional sequence involving characters vomiting great torrents of water.
At its core, King explores themes about the price of fame, extreme fandom and foremost the processes of love, loss and grief, with glimpses of Lisey and Scott’s grand romance as the eight episodes — directed entirely by Chilean director Pablo Larraín — jump back and forth in time.
King’s involvement, however, hasn’t fixed what has ailed some past adaptations. Instead, the author winds up muddling and muddying that defies simple genre classification — “macabre” would be the operative term — in too-drawn-out fashion, as Lisey slowly discovers the terrible secrets from Scott’s past.
Despite his uneven screen track record, the combination of King’s loyal fans, the need for fresh content and the box-office success of the latest “It” iterations have fueled a cinematic onslaught of his work, old and new. Recent TV productions alone include HBO’s riveting “The Outsider” and the less-satisfying Paramount+ remake of “The Stand” last year, as well as the upcoming “Chapelwaite” for Epix.
Like a well-traveled transit line, if you miss a King production, never fear, another will be along shortly. And the big names notwithstanding, if you bypass the stop for “Lisey’s Story,” you won’t have missed much.
“Lisey’s Story” premieres June 4 on Apple TV+.