Writers Stephen Downing and Duane Poole pulled together a reasonable disaster vidpic with the right quota of vignettes from the February Manhattan World Trade Center bombing, some scary scenes and lots of brave souls carrying on in admirable style. A calculated extract from the real thing, “Without Warning” serves up formula adventure sure to draw folks who like eyeballing a car wreck.
Proving one disaster telepic is much like another, “Without Warning” telefilm pinpoints groups and individuals and dramatizes their adventures when a bomb blasts off in the cellar of the Twin Towers. Tough-talking but lovable Fran Drescher and patient Susan Ruttan take their elementary classes on an excursion to the twin towers, where 200,000 visitors drop by everyday; flu-stricken Robin Thomas, working at his desk up in the clouds, finds himself carrying a resentful paraplegic down 87 flights of stairs.
Fireman Kevin Shea wrecks his leg in a fall into “the gates of hell,” as the fiery basement’s described, Michael Stoyanov talks a badly injured visitor into staying alive, and Ruttan’s class gets stranded for five hours in a suspended elevator. Brave maintenance man James Avery, rugged enough to knock down a fire door, searches for his buddy, and bomb specialist Andre Braugher, looking determined, traces whoever rented the van that carried the bomb into the building.
An even scarier concept: Drescher and her kids are caught 107 stories up on the observation deck and are told they’ll have to climb onto the roof for fresh air. The children behave well.
Director Alan J. Levi marshals his actors efficiently. If it’s hard to get close to the participants, it’s because there’s no time, no scope, and the terrifying heights aren’t visually punched home. Special effects by John Halkian are convincing enough — the burning mess downstairs where Shea writhes looks mighty hot — though closeups aren’t convincing. Interpolated newsreel footage from the original event helps develop the sense of reality.
Telefilm, like its predecessor covering the Frisco quake, uses props for people, urgent tones for thesping. If there’s not much depth to the program, there are moments, as when Ruttan, complimented on her behavior in the elevator, glows, “I’m a teacher!”
Those moments are choice but few. It’s a commercial venture, and in that light makes its point. After all, that’s its purpose.
Camerawork by Chuy Elizondo is exemplary, and M. Edward Salier’s editing good. Production designer Bryan Ryman deserves a hand for ingenuity.