Bombastic special effects ease of annihilation in 'Into the Storm'

Friday , August 08, 2014 - 1:35 PM

BLACK SKY
By Stephanie Merry

The Washington Post

If Americans are getting bigger, as we’re constantly reminded we are, we need a movie villain that can keep pace. That’s one thing the disaster flick “Into the Storm” has going for it.

The tornado that threatens to decimate Silverton, Okla., during the movie’s climax isn’t so much a well-defined cyclone as an amorphous blob that lumbers destructively across great distances. It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of twisters.

The tornado accomplishes awe-inspiring feats, such as sucking up a whole tarmac of airplanes into its orbit and wiping out entire neighborhoods. But for all the movie’s grandiose annihilation, there also is action so absurd and emotion so saccharine that the likelihood of involuntary laughter is high.

Director Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”) and writer John Swetnam (“Step Up All In”) clearly know that the disaster-movie thing has been done to death, and so, in addition to the bigger-is-better approach, they also offer up another fresh angle by adding a found footage element. We see video from the cameras of high school-aged brothers Trey (Nathan Kress) and Donnie (Max Deacon) and security footage from the school where their father (Richard Armitage) is assistant principal. We get the angles from a storm-chasing team that includes ornery documentarian Pete (Matt Walsh) and scientist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies).

For a bit of comic relief we also witness the misadventures of aspiring YouTube celebrities Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep). The pair perfectly encapsulate the movie’s biggest drawback, which is weak and lazy storytelling. Donk and Reevis are redneck stereotypes: brainless and drunken rubes with thick accents and a spray-painted sign on the back of their pickup that reads “Twista Hunterz.”

For the most part, the movie is at its best when the special effects are front and center and grouchy Pete or cheeky Trey are spouting those goofy one-liners that action movies are now required to have. But sometimes even the destruction becomes silly. When a character gets sucked up into a tornado made of fire, even impressive computer-generated magic can’t transcend reminders of the inane cult hit “Sharknado.”

The found footage element can also be distracting. When Donnie and his crush find themselves trapped in an abandoned building and she’s whimpering for help with a cut ankle, he has to take a few moments to set up his camera to catch their every move. And then there are the moments when the movie abandons the found footage approach altogether.

On the plus side, “Into the Storm” doesn’t drag. That may sound like small praise for a movie with such bombastic special effects, but it really is impressive, given that “Into the Storm” consists mainly of watching characters run from various little tornadoes before they have to take cover from a very large one.

REVIEW

  • THE FILM: ’Into the Storm’
  • RATING: *½
  • PLAYING: Syracuse 6, Megaplex 13, Cinemark Farmington, Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown, Megaplex 14, Layton Hills 9. 89 minutes.
  • MPAA RATING: PG-13
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