After destroying the West Coast in “10.5,” them damn killer earthquakes tear across the U.S. heartland — with a special eye toward national monuments — in this critic-proof sequel. A pastiche of disaster movies past with everything from tidal waves to erupting volcanoes, the some-star cast gamely waltzes through writer-director John Lafia’s silly plot beats, which pass at such breakneck speed there’s barely time to giggle at them. Suffice it to say that nothing gives a family the opportunity to bond like overwhelming carnage, though it’s hard to imagine this second jolt possessing quite the same seismic Nielsen impact as its predecessor.
Picking up almost where the original left off, there’s no rest for scientist Samantha Hill (Kim Delaney) and President Hollister (Beau Bridges), who might just be the unluckiest commander-in-chief ever. Fortunately, when they learn the quakes that devastated California are spreading across the country — causing extinct volcanoes to blow and the ground to rupture as if the big worms in “Tremors” were racing through it — FEMA immediately leaps into action, reminding us that this is all fiction.
Once again, the seismograph rings up Richter points like the scale on “The Biggest Loser,” while a diverse cast — from volunteer firefighter Brad Malloy (Dean Cain) to a caring doctor, Miguel Garcia (Carlos Bernard) — struggle to save lives under horrific circumstances. Meanwhile, Samantha calls on her rogue scientist dad (Frank Langella) hoping he has a plot to divert the quake’s path and curb, if not completely avert, disaster.
Lafia pulls out the emotional stops, from putting ailing parents and a pregnant wife in harm’s way to having Dr. Garcia oversee the president’s daughter, just as the FEMA chief’s progeny (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon) must prove herself after a previous failure in the field. Yet while the pic mercifully doesn’t take itself too seriously, most of this character development still feels like killing time between raucous outbreaks of destruction.
In the process, Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore, Las Vegas and a very large cruise ship (take that, “Poseidon”) all face Mother Nature’s wrath, causing Bridges’ president — a Ronald Reagan type with a touch of Clintonian empathy — to himself erupt: “I’m tired of hearing what we can’t do! Tell me what we can do!”
What they can do, of course, is patently absurd, but also completely beside the point. “10.5” is all about impressive special effects and the eve of destruction being a swell time to hash out family problems by, say, telling your daughter you’re proud of her.
As the ne’er-do-well egghead, Langella brings welcome vitality to the proceedings, but otherwise this is all by-the-numbers stuff. Still, the threat of this quake being truly apocalyptic raises a nagging question: If judgment day really were to arrive, would spending our spare time watching cheesy disaster epics influence our chances of a favorable verdict in the next life?