No Relief From CBS's Wrath in 'Category 7'

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2005

Although there's plenty of competition, the unintentionally funniest line of dialogue in the CBS miniseries "Category 7: The End of the World" is part of a speech delivered near the end by Gina Gershon, playing a bodacious bureaucrat who makes a TV appearance designed to calm the fears of a storm-wracked nation.

Her words of reassurance: "FEMA is fully operational."

What alternate universe is this taking place in?

Gershon is trying to reassure America after a mad wave of blowhards -- the meteorological kind -- has made mincemeat out of Chicago, New York, Washington and Shady Grove trailer park somewhere in the Southwest.

Considering the infamous record of the real FEMA in helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, among other calamities, the speech sounds like a sick joke, or a colossally oblivious government news release.

A two-part miniseries airing tonight and next Sunday (at 9 on Channel 9), "Category 7" is easily as big a mess as any metropolis visited by stormy weather. The script never quite decides what has caused the outbreak, at one point seeming to embrace the biblical prophecy about "the end of days" having arrived, especially when a herd of nervous frogs, some of them poisonous, go hippity-hopping all over a fashionable Washington reception.

But the frogs go away, leaving a few partygoers literally frothing at the mouth, and aren't heard from again. Instead, flies descend on a Washington office building, either as part of Armageddon or because somebody left a dumpster open out back.

Meanwhile, a hurricane is brewing in the South and tornadoes are whirling in from -- well, Tornado Junction, apparently -- and when the hurricane and the tornadoes meet, we are told, Western civilization might as well raise its hands over its head and surrender. But to whom? To Zeus, ancient god of thunderbolts? Maybe "Category 7" is an attempt at participatory storytelling; viewers can make up their own scenarios to explain the bombastic blitz since the filmmakers don't want to commit to one.

Personally, I suspect Ming the Merciless finally has finished repairing his Death Ray and has once more aimed it at Earth from the planet Mongo, just as he did in "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe." Oh, but that was much more sophisticated storytelling.

The United States is by no means the only target of nature's wrath, thereby eliminating the possibility that the storms are punishment for voters having twice elected George W. Bush, or at least one-and-a-half times. As the movie opens, Paris is -- how you say? -- all topsy-turvy and helter-skelter.

The city appears to have been taken over by a carnival, which continues carnivaling despite advancing tornadoes. Drunken soccer players rush onto the troisime tage of the Eiffel Tower, apparently because they yearn to be trapped among twisted wreckage. Soon, one of these bozos is not just dangling over the edge but also flying from it like a flag. Lightning strikes everywhere, yet the soccer goofs -- and, worse, an irritating mime -- survive unstruck.

Although French meteorologists are meeting within sight of the tornadoes, they don't seem to be aware of the funnel clouds until they get a phone call from their colleagues in the United States. No sooner do they open the curtains to take a peek when a giant clown's head comes flying toward them, crashing through the glass and demolishing much of the furniture. Sac re blew!

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