NBC precedes this ridiculous sweeps-ploitation thriller with a disclaimer that declares, in part, “This program does not suggest or imply that any of these events could actually occur.” So take it from the Peacock: “Y2K” is intended only to stoke the fires of groundless paranoia and further incite cyberpanic — but not meant to leave anyone really concerned.
David Israel, one of “Y2K’s” executive producers (along with Pat Caddell), was recently quoted, “My slogan while making the movie was, ‘Paranoia is our most important product.’ ” Yet oddly enough, the film’s doomsday scenario is so lamely staged that it actually serves to quash much of that manipulated fear.
Ken Olin (“thirtysomething”) portrays can-do hero Nick Cromwell, a “complex systems failure” expert for the government who has a front-row seat to millennial madness on the eve of New Year’s 2000. He and his boss, Martin Lowell (Joe Morton), conclude that Y2K computer failure will be massive, and decide to ground all commercial aircraft as the century turns.
But then things begin to careen out of control everywhere as each part of the world reaches the big 2-0-0-0 moment. Medical equipment malfunctions. ATMs stop spitting out bills, right on schedule. Prison doors operated by computer swing open, releasing criminals into the streets. A nuclear meltdown in Sweden kills everyone in the power plant. The entire Eastern Seaboard’s power goes kablooey. And in Seattle, another plutonium emergency is at hand. If it goes, it’s goodbye Sonics and Seahawks (and maybe the Mariners, too).
Cromwell reacts to all of this by regularly calling his wife (Kate Vernon) and asking with understandable concern about her and the kids (they’re fine). Pretty soon, his courage will be all that stands between us and enough radiation to fry the planet. It leads to “Y2K” devolving into a hackneyed nuke meltdown/race-against-time flick over its final 40 minutes.
Helmer Dick Lowry does his best to salvage what he can of the fright-by-numbers suspensefest, somehow keeping his players from chewing their surroundings like famished locusts. Unfortunately, the overheated teleplay from scribes Thomas Hines and Jonathan Fernandez never allows dramatic realism to seep through the film’s vast cracks, leaving the audience nothing to hang on to.
Consider that a mere 20 seconds after Times Square has gone pitch dark — upon the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1 — a woman whose boyfriend just proposed marriage is heard to exclaim through the ensuing pandemonium, “Steve, I love you and I will marry you. But first, let’s get the hell out of here!” When it becomes clear that the Y2K bug has not yet affected the ocean, Cromwell is moved to note trenchantly, “Fish don’t use a lot of computers.”
Dialogue aside, a certain preposterousness pervades the Y2-Chaos. A jetliner is about to attempt an emergency landing some 20 minutes past midnight and roughly 16 minutes after a city’s lights down below have spontaneously blacked out. Yet no one on board questions it when the pilot assures, “Just a little bad weather, folks. Nothing to worry about.” The line almost begs for a Zucker brother.
NBC has tended of late to overplow this Armageddon hysteria territory, using the we’re-all-gonna-die gambit to literally scare up numbers via such minis as “Asteroid,” “Pandora’s Clock” and “Atomic Train.” With “Y2K,” the network slaps a big fat exclamation point onto its millennium-closing obsession, airing a film that consistently squeezes little genuine suspense from a phenomenon that is surely the most overhyped of the 1990s.
Tech credits are mostly on the money, though some of the effects carry a cheesy sheen.