When it comes to weighing up Stephen King adaptations, the scales definitely tilts in favour of the mediocre rather than the must-see. In recent years we've had 'Riding the Bullet', 'Secret Window', 'Dreamcatcher' and 'Hearts in Atlantis' on the big screen and now comes '1408', a watchable ghost story, but one better suited to the TV than the cinema.
Writer Mike Enslin (Cusack) has built a career out of his investigative books about haunted hotels and guesthouses all over America. Having written an acclaimed, but largely ignored, novel, Enslin has settled into a life of driving from check-in to check-in, alone, numbed to the world and expecting little from it.
On returning to California from his latest field trip, Enslin receives an anonymous postcard, warning him not to stay in room 1408 in New York's Dolphin Hotel. Intrigued, he tries to book it - even weeks and months in advance - but is fobbed off by the management no matter what the date.
Enslin is nothing if not persistent, however, and, having travelled to New York, he invokes some old law about the fact that if a room is unoccupied the hotel must give it to him.
The Dolphin's manager, Gerard Olin (Jackson), tells Enslin that no-one has lasted more than an hour in 1408, and there have been 56 deaths inside its walls. But Enslin has heard it all before from countless fast buck chancers and proprietors, so why should this stay be any different?
While there are many actors with greater range than Cusack, he is one of the most likeable onscreen and he's perfectly cast here as the cocky-yet-deeply-troubled writer who gets way in over his head when he takes the key at reception. If it's wicked laughs you're after in between the scares, there are plenty to be had watching as his character lurches from one calamity to another. There's even some soul searching as we unravel just why Mike Enslin is the way he is.
Where '1408' disappoints is that it feels perfect as an episode of 'The Outer Limits' or 'The Twilight Zone' but doesn't have enough to be a film. Despite all the bumps and jumps, the best scene here is when Cusack's character meets Jackson's. The lines are great and the chemistry is top notch but, sadly, we don't get to savour much more of them together. Jackson's role is basically a cameo when it had the potential to be a lot more - especially as '1408' loses some of its appeal as the end approaches.
At just 94 minutes, your stay here is far more brief than it needed to be but, unlike many other King adaptations, you'd be happy to make a return visit sometime in the future.