(CNN) “Big Sky” starts out feeling like another quirky drama – a generation-later heir to David E. Kelley’s “Picket Fences” – before morphing into something much darker, which turns out to be pretty surprising and compelling once you get past the clunky and unpleasant task of setting it all up.
Here, the prolific writer is again working from a book, this time C.J. Box’s “The Highway” novels. The story focuses on a pair of teenage sisters who get kidnapped in rural Montana, gradually peeling back layers to reveal a menacing, hidden underbelly of the heartland.
A topnotch cast helps elevate the material, with Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt, a private eye engaged in a mini-soap opera involving his estranged wife Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), an ex-cop, and his business partner Cassie (Kylie Bunbury). The three get drawn into the larger plot when the teens – on a road trip to visit the Hoyts' son – are snatched by a predator.
File that sequence under the heading of “Teenagers do dumb things in movies and TV,” violating rules about strange truck drivers and turning off the main highway onto lonely back roads. The whole thing has an unfortunate, slightly uncomfortable slasher-movie vibe.