Killer-storm sequel brings ill winds blowing on CBS

Critical Eye

November 06, 2005|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

After a hurricane season that left in its wake a flooded New Orleans, the loss of more than 1,000 lives and damages so catastrophic they are still being calculated, CBS thought we might want a little more.

Starting tonight, the network is offering a two-part mini-series called Category 7: The End of the World, in which a monster storm boasting winds of 400 mph threatens to wipe out Washington after already shearing George Washington's face off Mount Rushmore and ripping the torch from Lady Liberty's steely grip.

What were they thinking?

At best, the movie comes off as exploiting this year's record hurricane season for commercial gain. At worst, it can be seen as callous and insensitive to those who lost everything in the storms and are still living in tents and trailers.

CBS executives note the movie is a sequel to last year's Category 6: Day of Destruction and was in production well before the recent devastating hurricanes. Executives said the network considered postponing the movie but decided that viewers would understand that it's fiction.

"This is a sequel. Viewers know what to expect when they see this film," said Chris Ender, senior vice president of communications for CBS. "They know it's an over-the-top presentation of an adventure film, and because of the over-the-top nature we don't think anybody will draw any parallels to any of the recent tragedies."

Over-the-top is right. Category 7 opens with laughable scenes of destruction brought on by monster storms: The Eiffel Tower is bent in half, the Arc de Triomphe is broken into bits, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt are wiped away. (After standing for 5,000 years, the pyramids apparently were no match for the power of a CBS mini-series.)

One of these storms, after hitting Chicago, Buffalo and New York, has made a sharp right turn and is headed to Washington. Meanwhile, Hurricane Eduardo is churning up the Atlantic from Florida, also headed for Washington.

The plucky FEMA director (Gina Gershon) must save the day with the help of her ex-boyfriend/mad scientist (Cameron Daddo), who is prone to pronouncements such as, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to nail this sucker to our trophy wall!"

So soon after images of flooded streets and flattened homes filled our TV screens, Category 7 offers scenes of water rushing through the streets of New York, of buildings being torn apart by high winds, of downed trees and power lines.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, it was a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph. Hurricane Wilma last month was a Category 4 storm when it hit Mexico and Category 3 when it reached Florida. (Both were Category 5's, with 175 mph winds, when over open water.)

Uh-huh.

The details are not quite right, but the movie's message about global warming is based in truth, according to climate experts. Warmer ocean temperatures inject more energy into storms, so it's expected hurricanes will continue to intensify.

"If you had told me five years ago that we would have three Category 5 hurricanes in the same eight-week period, I would have said, `What are you doing, writing a mini-series for CBS?' " said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming Program. "The reality is that hurricanes are likely to get more severe, though not more frequent, because of global warming."

CBS said that last week's audience report - which lists critical and laudatory e-mails and phone calls - included only one complaint about Category 7. The network is confident most viewers won't take it the wrong way.

"It wasn't scheduled to take advantage of what happened," Ender said. "That's something we would never do. Viewers understand what this movie is all about, and it's certainly not about capitalizing on a real-life tragedy."

Even if CBS' motives are pure, there's no excuse for making a movie this bad. The characters are cardboard cutouts: the discredited scientist who seeks redemption, the jealous wife, the journeyman storm tracker, the money-grubbing televangelist. They say things like, "If this hits D.C., we're gonna need to find a new capital!"

It takes the crack scientists hours to figure out what must be obvious to any viewer still awake halfway through this - to cool down the city, shut off the power.

Meanwhile, Randy Quaid, playing a fearless storm chaser, goes from lying in a full-body cast in a Chicago hospital to running from a tornado at full gallop a few days later. Huh? Oh, and there are also some kidnappings and a poison frog attack thrown in for good measure.

Maybe those Katrina victims still living in tents and trailers - the ones without TV sets - have one good thing going for them: They won't have to watch this.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

"Category 7: The End of The World" airs at 9 tonight and Nov. 13 on CBS (Channel 13).

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