Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Disaster’ (2003)

It’s always fun to watch a movie that lives up to its title, and Disaster (aka Cult of Fury and Sudden Damage) does that in spades. Going back through my viewing notes, I found myself shaking my head in frustrated wonder, pondering how the hell this movie ever got made. It is ludicrous at every turn, the kind of thing you would expect a fifteen-year-old smoking some bad hash from his sleeping uncle’s hookah to come up with. The story is stupid, the characters make terrible decisions and have unbelievable motivation, and the direction of the action sequences is a jumbled mess of miniatures, stock footage, and fireballs.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have got to see this movie.

Our bad guys are a religious cult. They don’t have a cool name or anything, but they do meet in a cave, so points for that. The leader is a blonde guy named Maxwell (Sonny Surowiec), a young Greg Valentine looking dude, who rages against how unclean and dirty Western society has become. He’s following the Gospel According to Travis Bickle, and one day, a rain will come and wash the streets all clean. Maxwell is engaged to a girl named Tracy (Marnie Alton), whose eyebrows hide like pale ghosts against her face, well-thinned and high. He proves his love to her by blowing up a floating casino in San Pedro. Curse all those dirty drinkers and gamblers! Tracy is appalled and runs away.

Quick side note on that boat of iniquity: it’s a decent model. But the water it is “floating” on looks like a bunch of lawn and leaf bags taped together, with a stagehand off camera shaking them up and down to create waves. This movie is so cheap, they couldn’t afford real water. Oh, and the fire is fake. The only thing worse than digital fire is CGI blood.

Two years later, Tracy is in Vegas. She’s a lounge singer, wearing pleather pants, exposing her midriff, and belting out secular power ballads. She’s the Whore of Babylon, obviously, and Maxwell wants her back. So he goes to Vegas to combine business with pleasure. He and his group of cultists track her down at the Sands of Time Hotel and Casino. The cult surreptitiously attaches disks of C4 explosives with double-sided tape onto the slot machines and begin blowing the place up.

What they don’t know is that inside the casino are two Las Vegas cops. Roger Goodwin (Jim Davidson) is a loose cannon, a cop on the edge, whose chief yells at him for not filling out his paperwork correctly. Really? Shit, this guy is a lethal weapon! Leaving blanks on his police reports? He’s gone rogue!

His partner, Kenny (John Simon Jones), is an alcoholic who goes to the bar during his shift to get his bourbon on. Kenny’s young daughter (Violeta Markovska) needs a father figure, and she’s so concerned about her father’s well-being that she tracks him down at the casino to guilt him out of taking a sip. She’s twelve years old. How did she get to the casino? Who let her onto the gaming floor? Think about all the checks and balances that had to fail in order for this to happen.

Maxwell’s group of wackos start chasing people out of the hotel. They’re on a double mission: Maxwell wants to purify Las Vegas to get his message out to the world, but he’s also there to retrieve Tracy. Nobody betrays Maxwell! That, and he was really looking forward to getting laid. Nobody wants to be wearing a purity ring in their mid-thirties.

There’s your Die Hard set-up. Two cops, a lounge singer, and a pre-teen have to stop Maxwell’s silver hammer from coming down on Sin City. If you can swallow all of this, don’t get settled. Disaster is bound and determined to make you spit it all back out.

The cops keep talking about how Maxwell has taken hostages inside the casino. But the cult members sent all the tourists out of the building. There are no hostages! You can’t count the good guys as captives, because no one has a gun trained on them, holding them in a single room. They’re flies in the ointment, monkeys in the wrench, but they’re not hostages. And we never see any hostages, because there aren’t any! We’re supposed to worry about these imaginary innocent people, trapped inside the empty hotel.

There were only about thirty people in the casino when the invasion began, and no wonder. The casino has concrete walls and looks like a serial killer’s dungeon. They must have put all the gaming machines down in the Gacy room. If you’re going to make some grand religious statement about how filthy and ceremonially unclean Las Vegas is, wouldn’t you pick a popular target? This joint has pasta buffets, video Uno, and advertised specials for 2 for $10 hand jobs. It’s obviously not a hot spot in town. Whenever one of the one-armed bandits explode, no tokens come out. Nobody is playing these slots!

At least there a lot of explosions. Okay, let’s rephrase that. There about four explosions that we get to see about seventy times. One shot of a single tunnel exploding is spliced into the movie about nine different times. The same Styrofoam rocks go flying through the air. You’ll start to recognize them. You might as well name them and adopt them like Tamagotchi.

Maxwell is in control of the explosives and can set them off at will with his PDA. It’s not even a Blackberry. It is a personal data assistant. He touches the black and white screen with his stylus and something explodes. Is that… could you… I mean, is that accurate?

Oh, here’s the best part.

It gets worse. You can’t even imagine. Let’s just say it involves badly edited news reports, the Hoover Dam, an interstate overpass, and a scaffold. The last line of the movie should have been, “The Aristocrats!”

Let’s jump back a bit. If Disaster is so awful, why would I say that you have to see it? It’s simple. There are a lot of people who love bad films like Disaster. I’m one of those people. There is a ragged glory in ineptitude that I am drawn to. If you can cobble together a movie that is terrible, yet still entertaining, then you have achieved some level of success. Some people watch videos of kittens falling off the backs of leather couches or kids racking themselves on railings attempting skateboard tricks. I watch movies like Disaster.

My gods, this movie is bad. It is such a piece of crap, Amazon should send viewers a complimentary diaper after they’ve watched it. But it is so much stupid fun, enjoyable because of its flaws, not in spite of them. If that’s your thing, then you are my brother or sister, and imparting knowledge of this film is my gift to you.

You’re welcome.

Disaster is waiting to be discovered on Prime Video, a malformed thing, a foul gem.

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