Thursday, August 14, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Into The Storm

Into The Storm was written by John Swetnam and directed by Steven Quale. 

Swetnam also wrote the classic 2014 film Step Up All In. Quale previously directed Final Destination 5: Even Finaler. What's that? I'm being told the title is just Final Destination 5.

The movie was filmed back in 2012, which seems like an oddly long lead time. It was originally titled Black Sky, but New Line eventually changed it to Into The Storm. The film was shot in Michigan, including two weeks of filming in Detroit. Insert your own "Detroit apparently looks like the aftermath of a tornado" joke here.

Into The Storm is a virtual remake of 1996's Twister. Pretty much everything from that film has an analogue here. There's a group of life-risking storm chasers, endless scenes of tornadoes disintegrating barns and an experimental vehicle that will allow them to see what's inside the vortex. 

Even the pattern of the tornadoes is the same; it starts out with a small one, then a larger one, then several at once, finally culminating in a pants-soiling mile wide F5. There's even a brief glimpse of a flying cow! The storm chasers are even "in it for the money," just like in Twister! At least this time none of the tornadoes roared like tigers.

I'm betting the only reason this film isn't called Twister 2 is because hiring Bill Paxton would have strained the budget too much.


The Plot:
A suspiciously improbable rash of tornadoes breaks out in the town of Silverton (I don't think they ever specify a state), endangering the small hamlet. A group of storm chasers cross paths with an assistant high school principal who's searching for his teenaged son. They team up in order to survive the deadly tornadoes. That's pretty much it!

• This film feels a lot like a Siffy Channel movie but with a bigger budget and better effects. It even features mostly TV actors, with the exception of Richard Armitage (of The Hobbit films).

• It's no secret that I am not a fan of "found footage" films. My main beef with them, apart from the shaky camera work, is that the filmmakers have to bend over backwards to think of reasons as to why the characters are filming the events instead of running for their lives as a sane person would.

The movie begins with a found footage scene of a tornado encounter, causing me to let out an exasperated moan as I thought the entire thing would be filmed that way. Fortunately that wasn't the case. It's an odd combo of found footage and a regular narrative. 

Funny thing is, in the found footage scenes the camera predictably shakes and wanders all over the place. But as soon as a tornado appears, the camera work suddenly becomes rock solid so we can get a good look at the expensive effects.

• I'll admit the tornado scenes were very well done, and one of the film's few highlights. 
I'm guessing most of the events aren't scientifically accurate, but it all looks nice. With the theater's sound cranked up it was all very immersive. As close as I ever want to come to a real tornado.

• Sarah Wayne Callies stars as tornado hunter Allison Stone, and proves she can actually be likable when she wants to. This is in stark contrast to the years she spent annoying the hell out of the world as Lori Grimes on The Walking Dead.

• Some have complained about the film's paper-thin characters. Eh, that's been par for the course in disaster movies since the 1970s. People go to these movies to see disasters. If you want compelling human drama, look elsewhere.

• The film touches ever so briefly on the subject of climate change, saying that giant storms used to happen once a century, but now seem to pop up several times a year, and we need to do something about it before they start touching down in large cities.

It's like the filmmakers want to make a statement about climate change, but either don't know how or don't want to alienate the deniers in the audience. In the end the matter was given so little lip service they might as well not have bothered to include it at all.

• Vice Principal Gary (played by Richard Armitage) has an argument with his teen son Trey (played by Nathan Kress of iCarly fame). Hilariously the only reason the writer can think of for all the friction is that Trey is secretly carrying a pocket knife, of which his father disapproves.

Do teens even carry pocket knives these days? You can't make a call, text or take selfies with a knife, so I wouldn't think so.

This knife ends up becoming the Most Important Item In The Universe. Gary angrily confiscates it from Trey, then later on uses it to cut through a strap and rescue his other son Donnie from a watery death. At the end of the film Gary solemnly gives the knife back to Trey, with all the reverence and importance of a general presenting a purple heart to a wounded soldier.

• Donnie and his crush Kaitlyn (oy, one of those "clever" spellings) are filming a video in an abandoned factory when a tornado hits, trapping them under tons of rubble. Every time the movie cuts to them and their plight, it absolutely grinds to a halt.

• Jeremy Sumpter (of 2003's Peter Pan) plays Jacob (does anyone in this film have a last name?), a twitchy and inexperienced storm-chasing intern.

Jacob is deathly afraid of tornadoes, which of course seals his doom from the start. He might as well have been wearing a red shirt or had a target painted on his back.

• Well into the film, probably around the 3/4 mark, a man named Lucas suddenly emerges from the back of the storm chasers' van. Where the hell did he come from? I swear he wasn't in the film up to that point. He must have been ducking just out of camera range for most of the movie.

In a similar vein, around this same time Daryl, the driver of the van, walks off the screen and completely disappears from the rest of the film.

• Watch for the flying cow, which of course is a shout out to Twister. This time though it's a fiberglass cow from a billboard, and not a real one.

• Scott Lawrence plays high school principal Thomas Walker (Hey! A last name!) and looks a lot like President Obama. In fact for a few seconds I wondered if he was supposed to be Obama visiting a high school graduation for some reason.

• As happened in Twister, the characters don't seem to be all that affected by tornadoes that are virtually right next to them. Unless the script calls for it, that is.

At one point Gary and Allison are almost sucked into the air by a tornado that's a block or so away. A few minutes later they and their group are surrounded by four or five tornadoes, and they're able to run unimpeded into a church. 

So which is it, guys? Do tornadoes suck you into the air or can you casually stroll away from one?

• The F5 heads toward a nearby airport, causing the planes on the runway to slowly lift into the air and spin around the vortex. Not just prop planes mind you, but giant 737s. It's an awesome scene, but I don't know... can a tornado really lift a commercial airliner into the sky?

• Pete (played by Matt Walsh) is the film's Designated Asshole, whose sole trait is that he places storm chasing above people. He's also the inventor of the Titus, an indestructible tank-like vehicle that can anchor itself to the ground and survive being mowed over by a tornado.

At the end of the film he decides to redeem himself by positioning the Titus so it will protect the rest of the cast, who are cowering from the massive F5 twister in a convenient storm drain. He anchors the Titus to the ground with metal spikes and even a winch. 

Unfortunately for him the tornado sucks the top half of the tank into the air, leaving the chassis (complete with spikes and winch) on the ground. I guess he must have forgotten to tighten the screws?

• The F5 tornado lifts Pete (inside what's left of the Titus) high into the atmosphere and above the storm clouds, into the peaceful, sun-filled skies for a few seconds before he comes crashing back to earth. Again, awesome scene, but I have a feeling it's not very scientifically accurate.

• The most cringe-worthy part of the film were the two amateur redneck storm chasers, Donk and Reevis (sigh... yeah, those are their names). They were ostensibly the movie's comedy relief, but their antics were nothing but grating and their "jokes" thudded to the floor like sacks of sour laundry.

At the risk of sounding like a jittery Soccer Mom, not only were these scenes irksome, they seem ill-advised and dangerous. Somebody out there's going to watch these two morons survive a tornado plowing over them and think they could do the same.

Into The Storm is mindless, action-packed storm porn in which the tornadoes upstage the humans. Honestly if you've already seen Twister, there's really not much reason to see this one. I give it a B-.

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