New Sci-Fi Releases: Shockwave: Countdown to Disaster (2018) - Reviewed

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A dangerous weapon has been activated, drilling into the earth's crust and causing widespread fiery destruction in Earth's greatest cities. It's up to an estranged couple who also happen to be dedicated scientists, along with some well-connected friends, to shut down government naysayers and save the human race from extinction. 

You could probably turn on the Syfy channel and find any one of dozens of very similar movies right this second. (Or maybe you'll find Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, with which this film shares a star, the hilariously nicknamed Rib Tillis.) But what sets Shockwave: Countdown to Disaster apart from its brethren of questionable plot choices, laughably sketchy science and unlikely deus ex machina is, well, absolutely nothing. 

Directed by mockbuster veteran Nick Lyon, who previously brought us both Stormageddon and Earthtastrophe, Shockwave is a whole lot of more of the same. Characters come together under catastrophic circumstances, face almost certain destruction, and grow as people. The performances here are remarkably restrained considering the material. Our heroine Kate, played by Stacey Oristano of TV's Friday Night Lights, takes the "scientist who puts her noble work ahead of her family" disaster movie archetype and, while not doing anything particularly unique with it, manages to stay grounded and fight the likely temptation to visibly appear to be above this ordeal. Her hunky counterpart Rob (Hillis), sciencing it up in entirely too small of a shirt but also glasses so you know he's smart, shows up and is charismatic and fairly natural, which is what one might reasonably expect from the part. The restraint even extends to the closest we get to a human villain, Department of Defense director Pierce (Ed Amatrudo, Nashville), a surprisingly low-key performance for a role that typically involves extensive chewing of scenery. 

But you're not watching Shockwave, or reading this review, for the characters. Like most disaster movies of this ilk, particularly those with budgetary restraints, we spend way more time with the human drama vessels than we do gazing upon nature's fury, or at very least a middling special effects program's approximation of it. The disaster eluded to in the film's subtitle leaves a bit to be desired, to put it mildly. It's not quite Birdemic-level with animated gifs bad, but it's maybe only a step or two up. Digitally painted flames and tornadoes threaten stock footage of the world's great cities, as fires inexplicably break out outside the middle floors of skyscrapers. Watch the destruction of Shanghai carefully and you'll even see traffic going about its usual business as the Chinese metropolis "burns" around them. They're doing the best they can with what little they've obviously been given, but that doesn't make it any less cringeworthy. 

Shockwave: Countdown to Disaster is a movie you've seen dozens of times before, if you haven't had the wherewithal to avoid the genre entirely. There are a few unintentional chuckles to be had, but nothing really to elevate this to the higher levels of "so bad it's good" occupied by films like Birdemic, or its bigger, flashier cousins like 2015's trashy fun Dwayne Johnson vehicle San Andreas. Shockwave is cookie cutter Syfy disaster: there have been dozens like it and dozens more are likely in the pipeline. Lacking even the slightest hint of a clever hook, Shockwave is just kind of there, unremarkable and, ultimately, non-essential. 

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-Mike Stec