Film Review: Into the Storm

This shoot-from-the-hip disaster flick dispenses (not quite quickly enough) with credible characters and even the pretense of its shaky-cam POV premise to get to the business at hand: shredding a Midwestern town with a monster tornado.

Sometimes there's nothing else to do but shout "Oh my God!" and breathlessly inquire "Is everybody okay?" That is just about the extent of memorable dialogue from Into the Storm, in which a desperate team of storm-chasers, some school kids, and a supersized tornado converge on a small rural burg whose McMansions and car dealerships are just kindling for the conflagration that everybody paid for. It's a cheap and only occasionally effective disaster film from the director of Final Destination 5 (anyone?) that strains to use POV immediacy as a tool for updating Twister for the social-media age. It succeeds at the very least as a public-service announcement on the foolhardiness of those who get a little too interested in filming encroaching disasters for posting on YouTube.

The crackling opener throws out not one but two horror-film no-nos. First you have a car parked on a deserted road at night filled with teenagers in full-on necking mode. Then, seeing an approaching electrical storm that’s knocking out streetlights one after another, one of the teens gets out of the car to shoot the scene with his phone. Screams and shattering glass ensue. Generally, Into the Storm ensures that the just and prudent among its characters will come through mostly unscathed, unless they are purported comic relief. Like most disaster films, it’s a moral story, with preparedness being rewarded and arrogance duly punished.

The head storm-chaser is Pete (a mostly wasted Matt Walsh, who plays the burnt-out press agent Mike on “Veep”), an extreme-weather documentarian who’s gone a year without capturing a single tornado and is getting desperate. On his crew are a pair of colorless techs and a meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) who is handed more than her fair share of “Mommie can’t be home with you now because she has to work” guilt calls. Quite a bit more interesting is Titus, Pete’s armored vehicle. Essentially a weather tank, it’s covered in cameras, armor-plating and bulletproof glass to withstand sitting inside the eye of a tornado so that Pete can get his dream footage. Curiously, Pete’s meteorologist and spare cameraman travel right behind in a tall, easily tipped-over, wholly unarmored truck.

While the storm-chasers are racing pell-mell into the generic everywhere little town of Silverton, there’s some dull drama being generated at the high school. Widowed vice principal Gary (Richard Armitage, square of jaw and thick with heroic dad-ness) is having his two teenage sons—Trey (Nathan Kress), the loud, annoying one, and Donnie (Max Deacon), the quiet, sleep-inducing one—film everything that happens on the last day of school for their video time capsules. When Donnie sneaks off from his graduation to help out a girl he has a crush on with a video project, the impending storm strikes the school. Little does everyone know that this is a megastorm of a kind that nobody has seen before, with multiple tornado funnels and skin-peeling 300-mile-per-hour winds. Meanwhile, a pair of “Jackass” wannabes and supposed comic relief who should just have “redneck stereotype” stamped right above their Confederate flag tattoos are trying to beat Pete into the storm so they can become YouTube sensations. Needless to say, eventually most of these people will end up in the Titus, screaming and shouting.

Into the Storm moves at a sharp clip that practically feels like real time. This is probably intended to mirror the strained immediacy of the POV format (most of the characters are filming everything that’s going on). But that pretense gets dropped by the wayside, as there was no way to pretend that some security camera was capturing some of the film’s bigger money shots, particularly one where an airport’s worth of airliners are swept up into the sky and whipped around like so many Dorothy’s houses.

Where it matters, the film’s special effects deliver, showing the funnels chewing through power lines and main streets with an impressively blind fury. Its abbreviated length is something of a blessing as well. But the filmmakers can’t conjure up even the slightest interest in the cardboard characters they are flinging into harm’s way. That’s par for the course; nobody shed any tears for the casualties in The Towering Inferno or Volcano. By zipping through it all with such abandon, the film barely gives the audience time to comprehend the enormity of the devastation they’re witnessing before the whole enterprise has dissipated, with as little warning or reason as a summer storm.

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