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The disaster film has sure come a long way since Irwin Allen schlocked up the genre with his celebrity filled b-movie junkets. Where once special effects took a back seat to sloppy soap operatics, A-list actors giving melodrama a decidedly bad name, today's apocalyptic thrillers are CGI spectacle first, weepy tear-jerking a distant second. In this regard, the TV miniseries Killer Wave is a cloying combination of both genre types. We get some decent watery effects, the title entity given a patented Perfect Storm parallel. On the other hand, director Bruce McDonald, with substantial help from a sloppy script by Ted Sarafian and William Gray, piles on the post-9/11 conspiracy theorizing, personal vendettas, and unrequited romancing. What we want is more aquatic atrocities, tsunamis scaring a vulnerable Atlantic seaboard. What we get instead is endless conversations about cover-ups, computer hacking, and complicated corporate espionage. It's enough to render your body surfing senses waterlogged.
When a huge wave hits the coast of New Jersey, causing untold devastation, the US government is quick to get a think tank right on the situation. They call in John McAdams, inventor of a weird energy system which used manmade tsunamis to create hydraulic power. At first, he is scoffed at by those who believe the event was part of some natural fluke. But things quickly turn devious when it appears John is being set up - plans have been purposefully placed on his computer, and the consensus soon concludes that his experimental technique has been perfected and is being used by terrorists to attack America. John becomes public enemy number one, and after being framed for a colleague's murder, he's also on the run. Luckily, former gal pal Sophie Marleau is with him. She believes John is innocent and wants to prove it. Unfortunately, it appears that both the private and public sector are involved in a scheme to use John's system to cause chaos for political and financial gain. And all signs point to Victor Bannister, a wealthy corporate CEO with a vendetta against our hero.
If you like your extinction level events on the decidedly talky side, the almost three hour Killer Wave will definitely satisfy your conversational jones. With the action reserved for opening episode enticement (we get one big sequence at the start, and another near hour two) and the rest of the running time taken up with exposition and explanation, what we have here is the cinematic version of a typical bureaucracy. When stuff happens, those in charge figure the best way to handle the crisis is by yakking it to death. And if boredom did indeed have curative powers, Bruce McDonald's droning effort would instantly produce world peace. Killer Wave isn't horrible, it's merely limited. Since there's no desire - or budget - to destroy a major city (as in Deep Impact or The Day After Tomorrow), we're stuck with uninvolving characters, a completely irrational set-up, and lots of loose ends flapping the narrative breeze. It takes a rare kind of creative chutzpah to imagine that an audience who wants to see giant waves wash over major metropolises would, instead, sit through your overtly dopey scientific mumbo jumbo. It may sound good in small snippets, but there's a genuine lack of believability in everything being said.
The acting is also marginal at best. Having traded on his proto-Peter Lawford looks for far too long, Angus MacFayden is like a scruffy stumblebum, falling into obvious traps and dealing with his dilemma with wide eyed ennui. Even back in comfortable brogue mode, he's a lame hero. Karine Vanasse isn't much better. As Sophie, her indecipherable accent (call it East European French???) and slight frame makes her an unimpressive accomplice. Since the entire script is based on a goofy 'us vs. them' dynamic, big corporate bully and its grieving CEO pitted against a good natured scientist and his questionably valid theories, it's important to have cast members who can pull off the ruse. Yet even Tom Skerritt, who often specializes in misunderstood villainy, can't make his Victor Bannister anything other than laughable. When he pitches his last act fit, we're left wondering if his company has an emergency buyout clause for upper management. The entire screenplay falls into these spasms of insanity. Individuals who scream and cry for a certain agenda are almost always working for the other side, while quirkiness and loner eccentricity substitute for depth.
Perhaps the biggest sin committed by this dull disaster movie is the lack of a legitimate payoff. Deep Impact tossed NYC an underwater bone, while Day After Tomorrow did the same before it froze the whole locale over. Here, a group of teens on a beach, and a small Maine town are totaled - and then the film has the bold audacity to use Hurricane Katrina footage to fill in the massive F/X blanks. What we want though is massive devastation - a skyscraper folding under the foundation-failing weight of a mountain of water. Heck, even Irwin Allen destroyed LA with an earthquake before continuing on with the conversation. Director McDonald doesn't care - he's too busy futzing around with split screen, multiple image boxes, and other celluloid signatures swiped directly from a '70s style spectacle. To him, this makes his movie inventive and retro. By contrast, it makes his audience antsy and uninterested. Let's face it - we want carnage. It's the reason these otherwise subpar movies exist. You don't think people support Roland Emmerich for his use of mise-en-scene and deft handling of actors, do you? No, the man knows how to blow stuff up. Had it finished with a literal bang, giving us the fatalistic finishing moves we've come to expect from the genre, there'd be more here than random verbiage. Sadly, the only thing this wave ends up killing is 175 minutes of your valuable time.
Trying to tweak the presentation to resemble a broader feature film dynamic, Genius Products gives the transfer a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen polish that looks pretty good. McDonald isn't going to win any awards for his cinematography, but at least his movie resembles a big screen production. It's the inherent elements in the story that keep things glued to the boob tube.
Even though it offers a multichannel mix, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is decent, but not definitive. The back speakers are rarely used, except when one of those monster walls of water show up, and the musical score is unexceptional at best.
Speaking of lackluster, the three unimpressive bonus features offered here are pure EPK fodder, nothing more. A backstage look at the use of blue screen is standard DVD packaging and the interview with the cast is nothing but puffery. Add in a tepid trailer and you've got a real lack of context.
Though it begs to be awarded a solid Skip It, there may be a viewer or two out there who longs for the days when thrillers used words, not wonder, to amp up the suspense. Of course, Killer Wave really doesn't do that either, but to each his own. Therefore, a Rent It will be given, with the implied caveat that nothing very exciting happens in the last 90 minutes (which parallels the first 85, come to think of it). Enthusiasts for epic destruction should simply grab their cable TV remote and channel surf across the numerous pay per view options. There is bound to a showing of Independence Day, Armageddon, or The Towering Inferno somewhere in the coaxial firmament. And who knows - Sci Fi might be offering a Stephen Baldwin marathon of Dark Storm and Earthstorm. Now there's a nonsensical disaster an audience can get behind...and the movies are quite laughable too.
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