Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two-Minute Warning

I've always gotten a kick, for some reason or another, out of those so-called "disaster films" of the '70s.

You know -- all-star casts, big calamity, mass chaos, run for your life kind of thing. The best one, hands down, is Irwin Allen's "The Poseidon Adventure."

But I had seen that one a hundred times, so when I got the urge to watch one, I thought about "Two-Minute Warning," a 1976 Charlton Heston film I'd seen advertised on TBS as a kid. Sure enough, Netflix had it.

"Two-Minute Warning" is set on "Championship Sunday" (aka the Super Bowl) at the Los Angeles Coliseum. A sniper climbs up to the big scoreboard and waits. He's eventually spotted by a guy in the crowd (Beau Bridges) and by the TV cameras mounted on the Goodyear blimp.

Capt. Peter Holly (Heston) is dispatched to the scene. After conferring with Sam McKeever (Martin Balsam), who's in charge of security, Holly calls in the SWAT team. He tells the team's leader (John Cassavetes) that "they do it his way" until the two-minute warning.

Meanwhile the film introduces us to a series of characters peppered throughout the stadium for the big game. Mike Ramsey (Bridges) is here with this family. Stu Sandman (Jack Klugman) has a high stakes bet on the game; he shares his troubles with a priest (Mitchell Ryan). Steve and Janet (David Janssen and Gena Rowlands) are a troubled couple from Baltimore in town for the championship. Walter Pidgeon is a roving pickpocket.

And so it goes. The film isn't much into character development -- well, beyond the usual cliches. The characters are here to serve a purpose. We learn just enough about them to be shocked when a couple of them meet their fate.

Anyway, the SWAT team gets into place, the president of the United States decides to cancel his visit when news of the shooter is leaked, all the VIPs ("potential targets," Holly says) are escorted from the game -- and then all hell breaks loose at the two-minute warning.

Growing up in the '70s must have been a confusing time. The post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era led to some bleak cinema -- apocalyptic, tense, brooding visions of the world, gritty crime dramas, subversive comedies. Other films of the era jumped in the opposite direction, toward fantasy and escapism, carrying with them a "we just want to forget this mess" mentality.

"Two-Minute Warning" is not a classic, but the "panic" scenes at the end of the film are a powerful "what-if." I can't tell you how many times I've wondered what might happen if disaster struck Neyland Stadium when filled to capacity one fall Saturday afternoon. This film gave me an eerily realistic answer, one I didn't much like seeing.

The filmmakers get serious points for filming his at the Coliseum and digging up Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford -- real life sports announcers very popular at the time -- to call the action here. It feels real, even if the football scenes go on a bit too long.

I hate to say this because I've liked him for years, but Charlton Heston isn't much of an actor. Course, he isn't given much to do here but look tough and take charge. And you know how these movies go. The actors aren't in them to win Oscars.

Still, I stayed in my seat for nearly two hours and I can promise you I didn't go anywhere once the shooting started. But if you really want to see a disaster flick at its finest, go rent the original "Poseidon Adventure." That film is wonderful in all of its glorious cheese and contains a certain charm that "Two-Minute Warning" decidedly lacks.

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