Sen. Kate Lassiter (Susan Sullivan) is visiting a cave in order to determine whether it’s safe to leave it open to the public. Giving the senator and her group the grand tour is Gene Pearson (Dennis Cole), who is not only a park ranger but who is also Kate’s ex-boyfriend. The question as to whether or not the cave is safe for the general public is answered by a sudden cave-in, which leaves Kate, Gene, and the others trapped. Now, Gene has to lead the group across often dangerous terrain to safety.
Along with Kate, the group includes a bitter cop named Joe Johnson (Leslie Nielsen!), his wife Liz (Julie Sommars), arrogant Prof. Harrison Soames (Ray Milland), and the professor’s shy daughter, Ann (Sheila Larkin). Joe and Liz are struggling to keep their marriage together. Prof. Soames refuses to allow his daughter to have a life of her own. The six of them are going to have to somehow work together if they’re going to survive this cave-in! Of course, they’re not alone. There’s a seventh person in the cave. Tom Arlen (James Olson) is a dangerous convict who was in the cave hiding out from the police. Now, he’s trapped along with everyone else.
Cave-In is a pretty standard disaster movie. Produced by Irwin Allen, it was originally filmed in 1979 but it didn’t air on NBC until 1983. By that time, Airplane! had pretty much reduced the disaster genre to a joke. Ironically, Leslie Nielsen himself has a starring role in Cave-In, playing exactly the type of character that he parodied in both Airplane! and Police Squad. At the time he filmed Cave-In, Neilsen was still a dramatic actor but by the time the movie aired, his deadpan style was firmly associated with comedy. Even when his dialogue is serious, the natural instinct is to laugh.
Cave-In gets bogged down by flashbacks. Even though everyone should be concentrating on making their way to safety, it instead seems that they’re too busy obsessing on their backstory. Since no one’s backstory is that interesting, the flashbacks don’t do much to liven up the film and, unfortunately, a cave-in just isn’t as compelling as a fire in skyscraper or an upside down boat.
On the plus side, every disaster movie needs an arrogant bastard who makes escape unnecessarily difficult and, in the 70s, no one played a better arrogant bastard Ray Milland. Otherwise, Cave-In is a forgettable entry from the final days of the disaster genre.