Like "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" "Into the Storm" is a movie. And like the wind, this particular movie blows tall, unstable columns of hot air willy-nilly.
In the spirit of "Sharknado" and "Sharknado 2," "Into the Storm" eventually goes into blender mode and mixes its elements of wind column terror, smoothie-style. At one point one of the twisters (there are several, though only one provokes the line: "This is the biggest tornado I've ever seen") sucks up gasoline from a wiped-out petroleum semi, which leads to a tornado on fire — a firenado.
Little else in "Into the Storm" could be described as dramatically fiery. Remember "Twister" in 1996, the one with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, working out their personal problems while chasing storms? This one's like that, but on roughly half the budget. (The film cost around $50 million, with half the budget going to visual effects.) The storm chasers this time are led by a tense Ahab type (Matt Walsh), whose documentary film crew rides around in a modified tank. They've been on the road three months with no decent tornado footage to show for it. Frustrating! So little human life wasted!
But the woman of science among them, the comely Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies of "The Walking Dead") says go north, young storm chasers, head north to the town of Silverton. (The state is unspecified; the movie itself was filmed in Michigan.) There a high school graduation is underway. Top-billed Richard Armitage, an Englishman doing his best generic heartland dialect, plays an irritable widower with two teenage boys struggling to connect with their father. Donnie (Max Deacon) is supposed to film the graduation, but he's off with a fellow student (Alycia Debnam Carey) working on her school project in an abandoned mill outside of town. Terrible, terrible timing, because conditions are rough, and everyone knows it's windy, and windy has stormy eyes that flash at the sound of lies.
"It's regenerating!" Allison says, at one point, adding: "These updrafts are insane!"
A good deal of screenwriter John Swetnam's dialogue sounds like auto-corrected exposition, designed to reveal nothing in the way of character. Much of the dialogue is cellphone-coverage-related. "There's no signal," someone says, followed a few minutes later by: "Still no signal."
Nobody watches a disaster movie starring digital tornadoes expecting Oscar Wilde. But "Into the Storm," directed with bland efficiency by Steven Quayle of "Final Destination 5," reminds us that unless a movie establishes certain base-line levels of human interest, it runs the not-unentertaining risk of coming out squarely in favor of its own bad weather. There is a moment, an extended moment when Donnie's stuck underneath rubble and the water's gushing in, and it's rising, and getting nearer and nearer his mouth, and he starts videotaping an alarmingly lengthy farewell to friends and family. And the whole time you're rooting for the water.
"Into the Storm" - 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references)
Running time: 1:29
Opens: FridayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun