One thing about Y2K Panic baffles me. People worry that everything will break down and stop working. But that happens all the time. My computer stops working, my cell phone stops working, my cable stops working and, of course, when given the chance, I stop working.
Nevertheless, NBC is confident there's enough Y2K anxiety out there to have made a movie about it--one oh-so-imaginatively titled "Y2K: The Movie." When the film airs tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 4, it will be preceded by a disclaimer designed to calm the fears that the movie will then go on to exploit:
"This program is a purely fictional thriller. . . . This program does not suggest or imply that any of these events could actually occur."
Hooray! We're safe! Actually, though, the disclaimer itself has its flaws. For one thing, it's pure fiction that "Y2K" is a thriller. It never quickens the pulse or sets the senses on edge the way a thriller ought to do. It merely catalogues random catastrophes that could possibly maybe might occur at midnight when we leave the miserable 1900s behind and plunge headlong into the 2000s.
The first signs of horror are less than horrifying. A young man finds that his bank's ATM won't give him more than $20 when he needs $200. Could it be that, after months of warnings about such an eventuality, the young man is just possibly a stupid idiot? We're supposed to feel sorry for him because he plans to ask his girlfriend to marry him precisely at midnight in the midst of Times Square New Year's Eve festivities--and there's another brilliant idea for you.
The hero of the show is brave Nick Cromwell, a "Y2K troubleshooter" played by mopey, logy Ken Olin, sadder-faced than a hungry basset hound. The writers of the film go to ridiculous lengths to put Cromwell at the center of what passes for action: First he is in Washington, arranging for an approaching airplane to land without the benefit of runway lights.
Then it's just a hop and a skip for nimble Nick to a nuclear plant outside Seattle. It seems the plant's computer thinks it's the year 1900, which is odd, since we didn't have nuclear plants then. Those were the good old days. Anyway, the temperature of the core is rising, rising, rising and meltdown looks imminent, imminent, imminent.
Everyone within a 10-mile radius is ordered to evacuate. That would just happen to include Cromwell's brave wife, Alix, played by Kate Vernon, a doctor who is busy delivering a millennium baby. She has told her two children, a little boy and a tarty, trampy 16-year-old girl, to stay in her office in case of trouble. But the 16-year-old sneaks out to a party.
So while Daddy is almost single-handedly preventing meltdown, Mom is out roaming the city looking for her bratty daughter. She may be bratty, but early in the film she serves as an ombudsman for the audience by declaring, "I'm so sick of Y2K!"
Other calamities noted in passing include the entire Eastern Seaboard being slammed into darkness by power failures; computers accidentally unlocking all the doors at a Texas prison; and Jay Leno continuing to host "The Tonight Show" even though there don't seem to be any working TV sets to receive it. Alas, the IRS computers do not blow up.
While he's off saving America, Cromwell's colleagues--Joe Morton, Lauren Tom, Zack Ward--stare at computer screens and maps and worry their little heads off. They should be worried. If the topic of Y2K doesn't already make people's eyes glaze over, this ragingly lousy movie will do the trick.