Saturday, August 16, 2014

Into the Storm / ** (PG-13)

Gary: Richard Armitage
Allison: Sarah Wayne Callies
Pete: Matt Walsh
Donnie: Max Deacon
Trey: Nathan Kress
Kaitlyn: Alycia Debnam Carey
Daryl: Arlen Escarpeta
Jacob: Jeremy Sumpter
Donk: Kyle Davis
Reevis: Jon Reep

New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Steven Quale. Written by John Swetnam. Running time: 89 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references).

While we all can’t help watching a car crash, there’s something about the scale of destruction that comes along with tornadoes that makes me question the reverence involved in turning them into summertime entertainment. I wonder if there’s a way to make a movie about a tornado destroying a small town that would really seem appropriate in respect to the real life victims of such events. If there is, Hollywood has yet to find the secret ingredient. In 1996’s “Twister” there was a little too much of Hollywood formula silliness. Nearly twenty years and countless tornado disasters later we now get “Into the Storm”, which elevates the level of tornadic activity and attempts to elevate the level of realism, yet still feels silly in respect to real life disasters.

“Into the Storm” has some standards of the typical Hollywood disaster pic. We get a very large cast of characters, including a divorced High School Vice Principal and his two sons, who have rebelled against their father since their mother’s death. There are two redneck daredevils that make the cast of “Jackass” look like graduates of MIT. Finally, the storm chasing crew consists of a female scientist who doesn’t appear to have a “feel” for this storm-chasing thing, and a veteran storm chaser filmmaker trying to get the “shot of a lifetime.” There’s also a new kid who isn’t so sure about this gig.

The movie pays some lip service to issues about the changing climate with a story where multiple vortexes and systems form to provide maximum opportunity for special effects. One character also mentions something about how the way we treat the Earth is disrespectful, implying the extreme weather might be nature’s response. The screenplay by John Swetnam doesn’t spend too much time on these overreaching issues because it might mean omitting a special effects sequence or two.

Swetnam’s dialogue is one of the film’s weaknesses. He written in a good deal of opportunities for found footage sequences, with everyone from the storm chasers, to the rednecks, and even the VP’s kids having reason to film sequences in the first person. I suppose this is intended to ground the film more in reality. Unfortunately, since not every shot is found footage, there is a constantly shifting feel to the sequences. Also, the “grounded in reality” aspect of the found footage is undermined by dialogue that sounds about as natural as a late night informercial. Once the action sets in, the dialogue settles into a purely functional role. “Watch out!” “Get in!” “Come On!” Swetnam’s writing seems more comfortable here.

The direction by Steven Quale—whose only previous feature film credit is “Final Destination 5”, a title that seems somehow contradictory—does a good job with the special effects sequences. The tornados are powerful and don’t feel like just the same thing happening over and over again. He does a pretty good job a making each action sequence a threat unto itself for the characters. I do question the airport sequence, however. I’m not sure how a small Midwestern town is able to support an airport larger than the one in Detroit.

I also question the handling of the two redneck characters. They’re intended as comic relief, something of which the movie is in great need. Unfortunately, these two characters are so stupid their involvement in the events intended to reflect very real threats in our world seems disrespectful. Are there really people like this that would so absent-mindedly put themselves in such obvious danger? This is an insulting characterization of people from a certain social and financial class. It’s a gross stereotype that mobile homes attract tornados, must we add to that stereotype that the people in them would willingly and moronically throw themselves into danger?

“Into the Storm” isn’t a terrible movie. It just seems to me the nature of its subject matter deserves more than a fairly empty action treatment. When a town like Joplin, Missouri is nearly wiped off the map by a tornado similar to one depicted in the finale of this film, the devastation and loss of life carries a weight that is not acknowledged here. Instead, it is treated as an adventure that brings the survivors closer together without much thought for its victims. I think a movie could be made about a disaster of this nature, I’m just not sure anyone would really want to see it.

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