Category 7: The End of the World (2005)
Directed by: Dick Lowry
Starring: Gina Gershon, Cameron Daddo, Randy Quaid, Shannen Doherty, Sebastian Spence, James Brolin, Tom Skerritt, Robert Wagner
After panning Category 6, it feels kind of strange to have to admit that I actually enjoyed Category 7: The end of the World quite a bit. At least the first half. Not because it is a better film — it isn’t — but because this time the screenwriters seem to have ditched the soap opera and the attempts to discuss energy politics, and gone straight for over-the-top silliness.
And who’s that making a comeback appearance, if not Randy Quaid in the role as loveable nutter Tornado Tommy, last seen being hoisted skywards by a massive twister and thought to be dead. Not so: apparently the tornado very considerately dropped him into Lake Michigan. Now he’s hungry for more wacky weather, and that’s what he’s going to get.
Gina Gershon stars as the newly appointed FEMA director Judith Carr. In the aftermath of the massive storm that devastated Chicago in Category 6, she aims to make the agency better equipped to deal with future storms. She gets her hands full as terrible tornadoes form all over the globe, toppling the Eiffel tower in Paris, defacing Mt. Rushmore and even grinding the great pyramids of Giza to dust.
Director Carr brings in misunderstood-but-brilliant scientist Dr. Ross Duffy (Cameron Daddo) to find out why seemingly ordinary storms turn into monsters. Since this is a made-for-tv disaster miniseries, Dr. Duff also happens to be director Carr’s ex-lover. And Carr’s son is continuing the tradition by dating Duff’s daughter. In various subplots, we also meet Carr’s dad, who is a senator, and her brother, who is a cop, as well as Duff’s wife who was Carr’s roomie at college. Keep it in the (extended) family, eh?
Anyhow, in order to get data for his research, Dr. Duff enlists Tornado Tommy, who goes stormchasing together with one of Duff’s old students, Coyote Ugly-style bartender Faith Clavell (Shannen Doherty). Their job is to fire rockets carrying scientific equipment into the storms. They get further help from an old Air Force colonel played by Tom Skerritt, who zooms from supercell to supercell in a superplane.
It turns out that it’s the “heat columns” generated by major cities that cause the storms to grow so violent. The way to negate the effect would be to cut all power in the cities as the storms approach. And as two massive storm systems are converging over Washington D.C. to spawn a hitherto unseen Category 7 hurricane, time is rapidly running out.
Meanwhile, in an increasingly absurd subplot, a husband-and-wife team of televangelists (James Brolin and Swoosie Kurtz) seize the moment to spread the gospel and generate more donations. While the husband appears more or less earnest in his beliefs, the wife coldly exploits the global storms, along with a couple of weird incidents featuring poison frogs and an infestation of flies, to whip up some End Times panic among the faithful. This in turn pushes Monty, a fanatical aide employed at the church, over the edge. After James Brolin is electrocuted as he prepares to give an outdoor sermon in the middle of a raging storm (talk about “act of God”), Monty organizes the kidnapping of a number of teenagers being evacuated from Washington, in order to fulfill some biblical prohecy or other. The group of kids include Dr. Duff’s daughter and director Carr’s son, which give Our Heroes a reason to tear around Washington in the middle of the worst tornado ever.
Unlike Category 6, which is pretty terrible from the beginning, Category 7 starts out as a quite enjoyably OTT piece of trash TV, but rapidly loses its charm during the second half. The first half features several dumb-but-fun disaster scenes, including the destruction of Paris and the flooding of New York City. The cheesy plot also finds room for the above-mentioned random incidents involving rampant frogs at some kind of political reception and the sudden appearance of huge swarms of flies at Congress, but these are never explained in any way and have apparently only been concocted to give Monty the fanatic something more to worry about. It’s all ridiculous but had me smiling. Unfortunately, the second half gets bogged down in the neither convincing nor very entertaining logistics of saving Washington and rescuing the kidnapped kids. The final quarter features lots of running around in basements and on church roofs, chasing madmen with guns, instead of letting us see D.C. being torn to shreds. Such a waste of screen time.
We do get a brief glimpse of the White House being ripped apart by the storm, though. Oddly enough, things seem as cosy as ever over at the Capitol, where director Carr’s dad (Robert Wagner collecting an easy paycheck) has his office. But I suppose that’s just how these storms work: in the opening sequence, a bunch of important people involved in a meeting about the disasters don’t notice the Eiffel tower collapsing a few blocks away. That is, not until they recieve a phone call about it from Washington! And if you think that is stupid, wait for the resolution of the crisis, where Our Heroes manage to lower Washington’s temperature by one degree, which causes the storm of the century to dissolve in a matter of seconds…
The characters this time around aren’t quite as gratingly annoying as in Category 6, if only because few of them ever develop any personality at all. For instance, Shannen Doherty’s sole purpose in the film is to fire a few rockets. Yes, that is literally all she does. Most of the others are equally nondescript and bland. The big names in the cast don’t give the impression of even trying, and the lesser names don’t really convince anyway.
Production values are decent, with some effects sequences looking better than expected while other are decidedly dodgy. Director tries to spice things up with choppy editing, slowmotion and saturated colors, but never really achieves that blockbuster look I suspect he aimed for.
Borderline so-bad-it’s good for the first half. Second half mainly tiresome. Buyer beware.