Reelz Channel, still testing the boundaries of its slogan “TV About Movies,” decides maybe it should try invading Syfy Channel territory with its new mini-series, the disasterrific Ring of Fire. Like every Syfy movie that doesn’t involve an oversized monster mashup (Sharktopus or Boa vs. Python), Ring of Fire features an environmental disaster, a bunch of vaguely familiar TV stars and lots of CGI. Reelz takes it to the next level, though, offering us full-fledged C-list stars (sorry Debbie Gibson and Dean Cain), some more expensive CGI and a couch-busting four-hour runtime.
Ring of Fire’s logy first hour or so introduces us to Oliver Booth (Terry O’Quinn from “Lost”), the only mildly evil CEO of an oil conglomerate using an experimental “laser drill” to prospect for oil in rural Oregon. Loudly (and rather annoyingly) protesting against this is muckraking environmental crusader Emily (Lauren Lee Smith from “CSI”), who just happens to be Booth’s daughter. (No, really.) Of course, a disaster film would be nothing without a panicky scientist whom no one listens to until it’s too late. Here, that role falls to Dr. Matthew Cooper (Michael Vartan from “Alias”). He’s so busy trying to tell the townspeople that there’s a shark in the water—sorry, that the local volcano’s gonna blow—that he doesn’t even have time to deal with his brain aneurysm. (Yes, seriously.)
At four hours, Ring of Fire is a mite pokey. The runtime is padded out by a lot of buildup. It’s well over an hour before that laser drill thingy breaks open a giant magma chamber and nature goes kablooey. And then there are all the subplots. Some have a bit of energy—like the one about the engineers stuck in the laser drill’s control room (which happens to be several hundred feet underground). Others do not—like the hilarious tale of the skinny environmental protester and the tubby oil company security guard who must work together to survive.
When things finally do start ’sploding all over the Pacific Northwest, Ring of Fire racks up some perfectly cheeseball moments. We get all the Volcano/Dante’s Peak clichés: People running down small-town Main Street trying to avoid pyroclastic clouds, a speeding SUV dodging flying rocks, a schoolbus full of kids on a field trip trapped at the heart of the disaster. The CGI effects are epic enough to catch your attention and the melodrama silly enough to keep you chuckling. The film keeps threatening to go big ticket, saying that this geological disaster might inspire 75 percent of the world’s volcanos to pop off at once. It doesn’t, but thanks for trying. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say it’s as ridiculous as you’re probably hoping.
Ring of Fire more or less succeeds in its mission: taking the tried-and-true Syfy Channel disaster flick and spinning it off into semiserious, medium-budgeted TV mini-series territory. The scariest thing about it, though, is the news that Reelz has four more of these in the pipeline (Eve of Destruction, Delete, CAT. 8 and Exploding Sun). Consider yourself warned!