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Here comes A&E's Coma, so knock yourself out (literally)

Lauren Ambrose acts stunned -- possibly by the script. A&E photo

A&E's two-part remake of Coma is best experienced while unconscious. Or at least in a Grade A stupor. That'll make the time pass faster.

Plodding and stupefying when it's not being laughable and poorly acted, this is entertainment fit for an alternative to water-boarding. It's also notable for being one of the last celluloid contributions by the late Tony Scott, who's the principal co-executive producer along with his brother, Ridley.

Coma, adapted from the Robin Cook novel and initially a 1978 feature film with Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold, premieres on Labor Day, Sept. 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) and for some reason returns on the following night at the same hour.

It's only saving grace is its borderline brevity. Although housed in two-hour time slots on both Monday and Tuesday, the commercial-less review DVD sent to TV critics provides barely 75 minutes of befuddlement in Chapter 1 and just over 80 minutes in Chapter 2. That leaves an enormous amount of space for commercials -- even in these ad-clogged times.

A&E and the Scott brothers have put together something of an all-star cast, although four of the familiar faces are pretty much past the tops of their games.

Richard Dreyfuss pops in and out as a very tired looking college professor named Hillside.

James Woods is Dr. Theodore Stark, a chief of staff whose role in this yarn is never really clarified. Woods, lacking the energy or perhaps will power to even bother chewing scenery, basically checks himself out of this thing early in Part 2.

Geena Davis is Dr. Agnetta Lindquist, the cougar-ish, devious head of psychiatry at Peach Tree Memorial Hospital.

And Ellen Burstyn crackles ever so slightly as Mrs. Emerson, who runs the day-to-day operations at the mysterious Jefferson Institute.

Burstyn is a six-time Oscar nominee who's won once. Dreyfuss has two Oscar nominations and one win, as does Davis. Woods perhaps is the piker of this group. He's never won an Oscar, but does have two nominations. And his two Emmy wins at least are nice consolation prizes.

The four of them sadly traipse through Coma in ill-fitting supporting roles. Which leaves Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame and Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) to shoulder the heaviest loads. She plays inquisitive medical transfer student Susan Wheeler while he's her studly medical resident supervisor, Dr. Mark Bellows. Nary a spark flies between them, even though they're attracted to each other and briefly share a bed. This is a duller relationship than a plastic knife and fork.

Coma gives off a lifeless vibe from the very start, initially taking what seems like forever to get anywhere. Part 2 is then dominated by an interminable and completely nonsensical chase sequence in which Ambrose's Susan is pursued by a psychopath patient of Dr. Lindquist.

The overall storyline appears to be glued together with non-stick melting butter. Or perhaps my brain became way too calcified at some point to even attempt to make sense of this. It's all more disjointed than a Julia Child chicken.

At one point in Monday's Part 1, Ambrose's heroine character has a sack put over her head by the aforementioned psycho case. Perhaps she pleaded with the director to let the poor girl suffocate?

No such luck. She's left to carry on while all those older hardware winners at least can say they've managed to largely stay out of the picture. In that context, Woods is the canniest of all. His best scene finds him screaming en route to his character's death. Probably out of pure joy.