NBC's 'Apocalypse 10.5': Let's Get Ready to Crumble!

Dean Cain as a firefighter faced with a catastrophic challenge or two.
Dean Cain as a firefighter faced with a catastrophic challenge or two. (By Jan Thijs -- Nbc)

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By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Less than two weeks after ABC's bird-flu epidemic wiped out millions around the globe, about 10 days since "Poseidon" sailed into financial disaster at the box office, and two years since the bombastic miniseries "10.5" sawed off a large portion of Southern California and sent it out to sea, well, guess what?

Starting at 9 tonight on NBC, Hawaii is swooshed by a tsunami, George Washington's face falls off Mount Rushmore, Mount St. Helens spews anew, Las Vegas sinks into the sand and a giant fault line stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico threatens to divide the nation -- indeed, all of North America. Literally.

Goodness gracious, leapin' lizards, hoochie mama and Land of Goshen! It's getting to the point where a person fears opening the front door -- or rather, clicking on one's wonderful magical picture box. Having somehow concluded that its apocalyptic "10.5" -- which aired for the May Sweeps of 2004 -- wasn't apocalyptic enough, NBC has cooked up a still corkier corker for the May Sweeps of 2006 and called it "Apocalypse 10.5," just so no one can possibly miss the apoca-point. (As with the original, the film is divided into two parts, the second half airing Tuesday night -- same time, same station, pretty much same everything.)

How goes the apocalypse? It's no Tupperware party on the patio. NBC has ratcheted up, amped up and hokied up the dire circumstances to eye-bulging, jaw-dropping and, mostly, rib-tickling extremes. Earthquake here, flash flood there, cars vanishing into sinkholes down yonder and, it reasonably can be surmised, a veritable pandemic in tension headaches from sea to shining sea. They are still shining, aren't they?

Through it all, no matter how seemingly hopeless, or numerous, the catastrophes, Kim Delaney, returning in the superwoman seismologist role of Dr. Samantha Hill that she played in "10.5," rolls up her sleeves, undoes a button or two of her blouse and starts barking orders faster than an auctioneer hawking pork bellies. Not only does her team spring into action in record spring time, but the folks at FEMA also perform magnificently, supplemented in their epic endeavors by an array of newly formed volunteer rescue teams.

Those teams might be wet behind the ears, but they're still, uhhhh, tall in the saddle? Dry in the saddle? Sorry -- all the screaming, shouting and camera-jiggling tends to boggle the brain. Or maybe just numb it into a sort of satiated sleep-state. Actually, the calamities and catastrophes occur with such frequency and ferocity that, yes, indeed, "Apocalypse 10.5" suffers the curse of being unintentionally funny -- even hilarious -- no matter how guilty one might feel about laughing even as hordes of extras are being turned into Kentucky Fried People.

The script is credited to director John Lafia. It plays more like a team effort, and it's easy to imagine such a team sitting or pacing around a room and roaring with laughter as it tosses out wild ideas -- how about, Niagara Falls catching fire, or the St. Louis Gateway Arch breaking loose and rolling all the way to Milwaukee? Those things don't happen in the film, but they might as well. Roll that clip, Hal!

First rescue worker: "Bald Mountain? That's an extinct volcano."

Second rescue worker: "Not anymore!"

Bald Mountain itself: "Rumble-rumble-rumble, gurgle-gurgle-gurgle."

In addition to membership in the league of tacky disaster films, "Apocalypse 10.5" is also what might be called a Meanwhile Movie. Waikiki is girding for the wave to end all waves, citizens panicking and authorities cautioning calm, when, meanwhile, in Sun Valley, Idaho, skiers on a lift quiver and shiver as the earth below them suffers the geological equivalent of terminal burping. Meanwhile, in the Southwest's Monument Valley, a Native American unloading bales of hay finds it a trifle unnerving when his horsie goes cuckoo and heads for the hills and, meanwhile, the desert sand beneath the Indian's feet suddenly turns soppy.

There are more disasters in the first five minutes -- many reprised from the first film -- than in a half-dozen normal disaster movies. But quality trumps quantity even in goofy disaster movies. More genuine dread and suspense is generated in the first five minutes of "The Day After Tomorrow," a truly great nightmare movie that pops up on pay-cable channels, than in "10.5" and "Apocalypse 10.5" put together. And multiplied times 10.5.


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