Quick SyFy Channel original movie checklist. Man-made super-disaster? Check. Evil corporate boss? Check. Outsider genius who can save the day? Check. Future Hollywood A-lister? Yes, readers, the only reason you’re likely to want to see this decade-old movie, as yet unreleased on DVD in the West (the version I got was Russian) is to see an early performance from Chris Pratt! He’d already been on “Everwood” for a few years at this point, so he wasn’t a complete unknown, but it’s fun to see him before season 2 of “Parks and Recreation” (and some other movies, I guess) made him a star.
Nanobots are our problem here. Project Serena, from Stark-Corp (run by Roy Stark, a fun super-evil turn from David Keith) is all about using nanobots to clean up environmental disasters, even though it’s obviously going to go horribly wrong. The experiment is based on an oil rig way out in the Bering Strait, and on said oil rig is investigative TV reporter Katherine Stern (Danica McKellar), going undercover as a rig worker. Her friend, who got her the job and stayed behind a week longer than he should to help her get settled in (!), happens to be wandering past the bridge as the scientists leave their PCs unlocked and just fills a disc with the most important secrets that Stark-Corp has. Ain’t that handy? So, she’s got all the info she needs to bring the evil corp down, but at that very moment an experiment on the nanobots turns them evil (or whatever), they escape and start eating everything! The collapse of the rig is a decent effect, but don’t get used to it because the rest of them are pretty rubbish.
The final piece of this puzzle is the rebellious scientist, Nathan McCain (Pratt). He works in a remote base in Alaska, providing info to the Army, but a couple of years ago did some consulting work for Stark-Corp too, “crunching some numbers” on a nanotech project. His early scenes are, for a reason which must have made sense to one of the producers, dominated by his assistant, the hard-partying, slang-slinging, layabout Terry (Stephen Furst). Furst is a veteran of TV, having had large roles on both “St Elsewhere” and “Babylon-5” (as well as the classic “Animal House”, of course), and at the time, he’d have been maybe the biggest name involved. So for him to play his part as if he’s Pratt’s age and a moronic pervert is one of the more curious choices this movie makes. An even more curious choice when you learn that Furst directed, under a pseudonym. What the hell was he thinking?
Katherine escapes the rig and wakes up in hospital – given she’s one of the tiny handful of survivors of one of the largest disasters in recent history, she’s allowed to just wander the hospital and no-one seems to care. But it’s not all comic relief and shots of hospital corridors – Katherine realises what’s going on, and knows she has to get to Nathan and get his help. So there’s a bit of confusing travel to and from Seattle and Anchorage (which, bear in mind, are over 2,000 miles apart), lots of scenes of a swarm of black nanobots (if they were actually nano, you wouldn’t be able to see them, but whatever), the Army getting involved (on the side of the good guys, for once), and Stark-Corp pinning the disaster on Katherine, calling her an eco-terrorist and desperately trying to cover their own ass.
Eventually, they figure out a way to solve the problem, but not before Stark-Corp’s lies begin to be revealed and we get to see that the Army have literally made a paper plane. The ending is all kinds of stupid, as the friendly General pilots that plane to save the day – first up, he’s not flown in 15 years; second up, Nathan is the navigator, despite him being a scientist and not, y’know, a pilot; and third up, the person in charge of detonating the special device is Katherine, despite her being a damn reporter! Okay, I can hear you ask. Perhaps they needed Nathan to decide the optimum time to drop it. Nope!
Bulgaria was the shooting location, apparently, but they made literally no effort to make any of it look like America, including at one point filming in a mall where the Bulgarian shop signs are clearly visible all over the place. Fun fact: in real life, Danica McKellar is a maths whiz, having written several books on the subject and even serious academic papers. Why not have her be the smart one? Instead, she’s obliged by the plot to wear a crop-top and leopard-print trousers throughout, as if we couldn’t tell she was attractive otherwise. Oh, and right at the beginning we get an absolutely perfect example of the “one week til retirement, hope nothing happens to me” trope that should have been retired when movies were black and white.
It’s just silly. They lucked into having two great leads (although there’s absolutely zero chemistry between them, oddly enough), but wasted them on this. Avoid unless you’re part of some charity event where you have to watch all Chris Pratt’s TV and movie work in a row.
Rating: thumbs down