Into the Storm (2014) / Action-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Running Time: 89 min.

Cast: Max Deacon, Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter
Director: Steven Quale
Screenplay: John Swetnam

Review published August 9, 2014

Fantastic special effects and plentiful debris aren't enough to make a good movie, and while the many scenes of destruction are certainly eye popping, they are a far cry from making the ineptitude of the rest of this action-drama remotely interesting.  Essentially, Into the Storm is an attempt to remake Twister, but without the appealing actors, halfway competent direction, or a remotely original idea.

Set in the fictional small town of Silverton, Oklahoma, a major storm threatens to put a damper on the high school graduation ceremonies about to take place.  The main character we follow is a 16-year-old (or is he 17? The movie seems to be inconsistent, and the actor looks well into his 20s) digital filmmaking nerd named Donnie (Deacon, I Anna), who is working on a time capsule project to be unlocked 25 years hence, and who set to record the graduation ceremony, only to take a creative detour when he decides to eschew his father's (Armitage, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) wishes and help the school beauty (Carey, Where the Devil Hides) he has had a crush on instead.  Meanwhile, Donnie's not the only person capturing footage around the town, as the bad weather has brought to town a crew of hi-tech storm chasers hungry to make a name for themselves with the kind of first-person footage that TV stations could only dream to air.

Into the Storm is directed by Steven Quale, whose claim to almost nonexistent fame comes though his direction of Final Destination 5, and his association as a second-unit director for James Cameron's blockbuster projects, including a co-director credit on Aliens of the Deep.  In place of real characters, we get placeholder archetypes and a heaping helping of noise and clatter to go along with seeing many shots of towns being ripped asunder by giant tornadoes.  We get familiar tropes, such as a single dad trying to find his sons, a teenage boy who is too shy to ask the school's beauty out but ends up becoming a hero in her eyes, and rival storm chasers (a truly annoying pair of 'reality show'-caliber, stereotypical rednecks) who muck things up more often than not.

The worst thing that a film featuring massive tornadoes can be is dull, and that's precisely the adjective one must use to describe this by anyone who isn't enamored of wanton destruction-porn.  The reason is that we're just not left in good hands when humans take the center of the screen, with characters who are not only barely fleshed out, but most of them rankle ones good mood through sheer obnoxious attitude.  It's one thing for the characters to be cardboard, but to actually make us hope they will die sooner rather than later shows just how little investment we must have in all of the manufactured drama cooked up by screenwriter John Swetnam (Step Up All In, Evidence) in trying to tie in some stakes to the computer-generated graphics.

Even worse than the terrible characterizations is the idiotic and overused device known as the 'found-footage movie'.  Not only does it not really draw us into the action, despite its first-person perspective, but a sizable portion of the film is actually not shown to have been shot by any of the characters we see on the screen.  To top this off, the actors are obviously acting throughout; if you're going to do a found-footage flick right, you're going to have to let the cast improvise most of their dialogue or the premise is going to seem too artificial to ever buy.  Plus, how is it that every device used to make a recording -- from expensive cameras, to GoPros, to cell phones -- all shoot their clips with the same aspect ration, image quality, and theater-rocking Dolby Digital surround sound with a full orchestral score?

So, if you're just looking for very detailed and realistic-looking depictions of natural disasters on steroids, is the 90 minutes worth it?  Only if you have the advantage of a fast-forward button.  If you have it on Blu-ray, zap through any parts where humans are on the screen and lips begin to move, because the dialogue, in combination with the grating performances, is truly abysmal.  The biggest disaster in a film full of awe-inspiring twisters is the film itself.  Like a real twister, Into the Storm sucks and sucks and sucks, and just when you think the sucking is done, then it just starts to blow.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo