'Meteor'

"Meteor" is so bad, so unbelievably campy, it almost demands to be seen.

Although I seldom go this far out on a limb, “Meteor” is so bad, so unbelievably campy, it almost demands to be seen. Coming a few weeks after ABC’s “Impact,” this RHI Entertainment two-parter manages to make that end-of-the-world epic look like “I, Claudius,” incorporating a maniac cop subplot and perplexing levels of gratuitous violence. Various recognizable actors dot the cast, but several of them have the good sense to die well before the end (or not) comes, leaving poor Marla Sokoloff as mankind’s last best hope.

Despite the shared title, “Meteor” isn’t directly related to the 1979 disaster movie that starred Sean Connery, which contained a then-appropriate Cold War hook, as the U.S. and Soviets had to team up to try and prevent a world-annihilating threat.

Instead of geopolitics, director Ernie Barbarash and writer Alexander Greenfield settle for a murderous cop (Michael Rooker) swearing vengeance against the family of his partner, Jack (Billy Campbell), leading him on a chase across California while laws of civility break down as huge meteor shards reshape the landscape.

That’s because a mountain-sized meteor named Kassandra is hurtling toward Earth, and only a crazy old scientist (Christopher Lloyd) and his young colleague Imogene (Sokoloff) know how to stop it. Unfortunately, they’re in Mexico, and when something bad happens to the elder lab rat, Imogene has to navigate her way across the border hoping to convey vital information to Dr. Chetwyn (Jason Alexander), the harried scientist who fired her boss but is now working with the military to save humanity.

Because the meteor wreaks havoc on communications, it forces Imogene to run an unintentionally hilarious gantlet of escaped fugitives, car crashes, gun-toting vigilantes and border-patrol agents. Meanwhile, there are multiple side plots that mostly amount to killing time before Kassandra reaches the planet, including survival efforts in a meteor-struck hospital and the efforts of a local sheriff (Stacy Keach) — who happens to be Jack’s dad — struggling to maintain order in his small town.

The giggles would come fast and furious were it not for the appalling quantity of violence, which seems less about the fraying of social norms in the face of a crisis than a wholly unnecessary movie within the movie. Indeed, Rooker’s character is so bent on destruction that he essentially ignores the fire raining down from the sky.

There’s much to be said for the major networks spicing their lineups with something more than just reality shows during the summer, but if “Meteor” represents the best they have to offer, Armageddon, come on down!

Meteor

Two-part movie; NBC, Sun. July 12-19, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Alpine Medien Prods. in association with Larry Levinson Prods. and Grand Army Entertainment and presented by RHI Entertainment. Executive producers, Robert Halmi Jr., Larry Levinson; co-executive producers, Randy Pope, Michael Moran; producers, Juan Mas, Tony Roman; director, Ernie Barbarash; writer, Alexander Greenfield;

Crew

camera, Maximo Munzi; production designer, Scott H. Campbell; editors, Tricia Gorman, Mike Witting; music, Jonathan Snipes; casting, Penny Perry, Amy Reece. 120 MIN.

Cast

Jack Crowe - Billy Campbell Imogene O'Neil - Marla Sokoloff Dr. Chetwyn - Jason Alexander Calvin Stark - Michael Rooker Sheriff Crowe - Stacy Keach Gen. Brasser - Ernie Hudson Dr. Lehman - Christopher Lloyd Jenny Crowe - Mimi Michaels

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