With Reelz’s spate of disaster-themed movies and miniseries that it’s rolled out this year, the temptation has been to write them all off as hopelessly cheesy cash-ins and retreads. Yet while Ring of Fire, Eve of Destruction, Delete and CAT. 8 certainly have all had their moments of camp, none has really quite tread into Syfy Original Movie territory. As much as we might like it to be different, there can only be one Sharknado. But for better or worse, Exploding Sun might finally earn that reputation.
It’s not so much the premise, which admittedly does smack a bit of Airplane II: The Sequel. A commercial space shuttle is struck by a solar storm, sending it hurtling into the sun, and that’s bad news for more than just the passengers onboard as the impact will trigger an exponentially larger solar storm that will, in popular disaster-movie parlance, blast Earth back into the Stone Age. That’s all fine and good. What propels Exploding Sun into Dinocroc land is, first off, its ridiculously direct title. Unless there was some painful literary metaphor hiding behind there, what else could something called Exploding Sun be but a balls-to-the-wall disaster flick? You’ve also got the potent mix of substandard special effects, ham-fisted dramatics and community theater-level acting.
Seriously, the guy who plays the president in this thing …
Anyway, the effects you can sort of expect and maybe even forgive, seeing as this isn’t a summer blockbuster we’re talking about here. But it’s hard to feel the full effect of global disaster when the script insists on giving so much weight to a howlingly bad love triangle between Craig (Anthony Lemke), a brilliant but troubled astrophysicist, presidential science advisor Cheryl (Natalie Brown), and legendary astronaut Don (David James Elliott). Cheryl left Craig for Don at some point, and now Don is trying to overtake Craig’s position as head of the shuttle operations. So yeah as the world fights for its life, and precious moments tick away, these three are bickering over who did whom wrong. Or actually, they’re not even bickering over that, it’s more like they just make mean comments to each other. Although I do appreciate this situation giving me the opportunity to point out that with this role, David James Elliott goes from starring in JAG to playing a jag.
I dunno, do you think that at some point they’ll have to put aside their differences and work together to save the world?
Adding to the weirdness is the random presence of a real actor giving a genuinely decent performance. Julia Ormond shows up as a relief worker in Afghanistan whose husband is on the shuttle. She actually manages to make it through lines like, ”Can you be there when it hits me that my husband’s dead?” with minimal damage. It helps, and is profoundly appropriate, that she spends the entire movie apart from the other principal characters.
I don’t necessarily think all this is a bad development. Something like Exploding Sun wasn’t likely to ever be legitimately good, with the best it could hope for probably being a Deep Impact facsimile. It can fill the need for cheeseball disaster porn for those who can’t quite bring themselves to watch Arachnoquake or Piranhaconda.
I’ll just leave you with one more line, one that has seared itself into my bad-dialogue memory indelibly: “Your boss is now dead, and the world is staring down the barrel of a gun.”
Exploding Sun airs at 8pm ET Monday, Sept. 9, on Reelz.
Photo: © Muse Entertainment