Directed by: Dick Lowry
Starring: Thomas Gibson, Nancy McKeon, Chandra West, Brian Dennehy, Randy Quaid, Dianne Wiest, Ari Cohen, Nancy Anne Sakovich
The two-part miniseries Category 6: Day of Destruction was a big success for CBS at its original airing in 2004; the first part attracted about 19 million viewers, 17 million of whom tuned in for the second part. Sadly, a decent lineup of well-known actors can’t hide that this is a weak hodge-podge of genre clichés, cloying sentimentality and really terrible dialogue. When the show goes on for three hours (four if you add commercials) you have time to notice such things.
Category 6 starts by showing us a tornado ripping through Vegas, much to the surprise of the happy drunk tourists. This gets the attention of the staff at the National Weather Service, headed by near-retirement veteran Andy Goodman (Brian Dennehy). They track the storm system as it develops and starts moving across the country.
The storms are heading in the direction of Chicago, where Mitch Benson (Thomas Gibson), chief of operations at Midwest Electric, works hard to provide the city with enough electricity during a heat wave. Midwest Electric is in the hands of greedy power supplier Lexer Corp. and its evil CEO. To complicate matters, Mitch is cheating on his wife with Lexer’s beautiful public relations consultant (Chandra West).
News reporter Amy Harkin (Nancy McKeon) is convinced that Midwest and Lexer are up to no good and keeps hounding Mitch at every press conference. She develops a source inside Lexer who’s worried that the computer systems controlling the power distribution are vulnerable to hacker attacks. And sure enough: as two major storm systems converge above Chicago and knock out power plants, the situationed is worsened by someone hacking into Lexer’s systems and shutting down all power in the area. Oh, the humanity…
To fill out the bloated running time the script also makes room for a bunch of soap-operatic subplots that made me wonder if perhaps Hallmark was somehow involved (they weren’t). These are presumably intended to provide identification and human interest, but mainly come off as saccharine moralities or just stupid sidetracks. The dumbest part of the show involves Mitch’s teenage daughter and her boyfriend, who could well be the most annoying gangster-wannabe ever caught on film. When the girl tries to break up with him, his response is to take her – and a bunch of innocent bystanders – hostage inside a locked up bank during a power failure in the middle of a raging storm. Good thinking! But of course, the aim of this entire subplot is to show how a nice crisis situation will strengthen the nuclear family, while the forces of nature subsequently punish the morally corrupt. (Yes indeed: of the four major characters that die onscreen, three had it coming because they did bad things. Count on a natural disaster to have a strong sense of justice!)
What fun is to be had from the cheesier moments and the disaster scenes (though these are often a bit too lame) is counteracted by the contrived earnestness and lumbering unwieldiness of the plot. There’s a lot of serious talk about energy politics, and many scenes of worried people watching stuff happening on monitors, but precious little action of any kind until the last half-hour. And when the storms finally hit Chicago with the force of an F6 tornado (or “Hiroshima plus Nagasaki times 50”, as one character describes it — just think about that one for a moment…), it doesn’t really seem that bad: at least it doesn’t prevent the major characters from driving through it all in a van and stopping to change tires along the way.
The characters – oh, don’t get me started – are either boring cardboard cutouts or so annoying you wish they’d get killed off as soon as possible. Mitch’s teen daughter, her idiot boyfriend, and the airforce pilot who just wouldn’t shut up about his wife all grated on my nerves, but I really grew to hate news reporter Amy Harkin, whose journalistic method seemed to consist of acting pissed off while shouting ”The public have a right to know”.
The visual effects met with some appreciation at the show’s initial airing. They’re okay for a made-for-TV production, but not much more. Many shots have the synthetically lifeless feel of video game graphics. But honestly, the main problem is that there are too few scenes of majestic tornado mayhem.
The saving grace of this movie is Brian Dennehy. Most of the surrounding cast are either phoning in their performances or are downright bad, but Dennehy gives a nice and dignified performance. Also, Randy Quaid adds a breath of fresh air (and tons of shameless overacting) among all the worried looks and tin-eared dialogue with his demented glee as storm chaser Tornado Tommy.
To sum it up: you might want to skip this one, unless you’re a depraved disaster movie completist. Like me.