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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look: 11.11%
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Total Crap77.78%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Into the Storm
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A.K.A. Tornadonado"
1 stars

I was just about to commence this review of "Into the Storm" by describing it as "absolutely idiotic" until it dawned on me that doing so would be utterly superfluous. This is, after all, a cheesy thriller about a seemingly unrelenting array of CGI tornados, each one bigger and deadlier than the last, buffeting a horrifically unlucky small midwestern town over the course of one long day--of course it is going to be idiotic. The question is--is it the kind of fun idiotic that can serve as a weirdly refreshing cinematic tonic during the dog days of August, especially in the wake of a summer movie season that has, with few exceptions, not exactly been that inspiring, or is it the kind of stupid idiotic that is not only determined to kill your remaining brain cells but plans to do it as slowly and painfully as possible. As it turns out, the film more or less splits the difference--it is far too stupid to recommend, even simply on the level of pure camp, but the whole endeavor is so silly that it is impossible to get too worked up over the inanities that it has to offer up.

You know those goofball low-budget films that make up the various breads and butters that constitute the programming on the SyFy Channel, most infamously with the bewilderingly popular "Sharknado" franchise? "Into the Storm" is a film that has been produced on a somewhat larger scale and with a presumably slightly larger budget but which otherwise follows the formula of those basic cable programmers to a T. In a nutshell, a small Oklahoma town finds itself at the mercy of a series of increasingly violent tornados over the course of one long day including multiple tornados, a flaming tornado and a climactic super-tornado with wind speeds clocking in at over 300 miles an hour. (Presumably only the threat of legal action from Steven Spielberg prevented them from offering up a Cownado.)

Inevitably, there is a small group of people, played by a group of relative newcomers with a couple of mildly familiar faces sprinkled into the mix, trying not only to survive but to come to terms with the single bit of character exposition that each one has been afforded. Among them are the local vice-principal (Richard Armitage), who has been cold to his two sons since the death of his wife in a car crash, the older son (Max Deacon), who resents his dad for not being there for him, the teen queen (Alycia Debnam Carey) that he has a crush on and who wants to save the environment by exposing the dangers of an abandoned local paper mill, a stormchaser (Matt Walsh) on a prolonged cold streak, a meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) who is torn between her job and wanting to be there for her moppet daughter and a couple of hillbilly daredevils who will willingly put themselves in extreme danger in the hopes of getting a few YouTube hits and disproving certain theories regarding the evolution of the species.

By most sane critical standards, "Into the Storm" is a complete mess. To describe the screenplay by John Swetnam (who also penned the new "Step Up" movie, for those of you scoring at home) as boilerplate would be unfair to boilerplates thanks to its collection of trite dialogue, outright thefts from other, better films and a narrative that grinds to a complete halt in the lulls between the storm sequences. Director Steven Quale, whose previous effort was the last "Final Destination" film, tries to keep things moving along but seems hemmed in by the need to keep the on-screen carnage to PG-13 levels. As for the characters, they are so paper-thin that it boggles the mind that they could stand up to a light breeze, let alone the gusts of wind that eventually buffet them, and the actors plow through their paces with the grim determination of people who seem to have realized early that if they are very lucky, no one will notice that they were even in it in the first place. And to make matters even more off-putting, the film is mostly one of those found-footage deals in which everyone has some tortured reason for dragging a camera along, presumably because the shakiness of the resulting footage will help better disguise any stumbles regarding the visual effects. (However, the film does occasionally drop the conceit when it can no longer contrive of a reason for the characters to be filming, which only serves to highlight just how pointless the gimmick is in the first place.)

The film's biggest sin is that it takes a concept that is of legitimate concern to many people--the terrifying notion that a tornado can come virtually out of nowhere and annihilate everything in its path in the space of only a few minutes--and somehow manages to render it completely inert despite all of the state-of-the-art huffing and puffing along the way. Take the twister in "The Wizard of Oz," for example. From a technological standpoint, there isn't much to it but it was deployed with such skill that the end result has continued to simultaneously terrify and thrill audiences of all ages for over 75 years. By comparison, the tornados created for this film by the various effects houses are far more elaborate in size and scope but none of them carry even the slightest bit of real mystery or suspense to them--they just feel like CGI demo reels from companies that just aren't going to get the commission this time around.

And yet, as dumb as "Into the Storm" gets--and it gets very dumb indeed--it never quite manages to aggravate in the manner of so many other boring behemoths of late such as "Transformers 4" and its ilk. If nothing else, it does contain a couple of moments so ridiculous that they have a certain inane charm to them. There is the opening sequence in which a bunch of dumb kids in a car are stalked and killed by a tornado that acts for all purposes like a psycho in a mad slasher film. There is the gratuitous quoting of John Updike at one point. There is the part where the scientist explains to the stormchaser that they missed a strike because "No one could have known that tornado would hit," even though that ability presumably fell under the aegis of her job description. My favorite comes during the grand finale in which the final mega-tornado comes bearing down and even though it is powerful enough to rip up entire buildings and an entire fleet of airplanes in an instant, there is this one Port-A-Potty that somehow manages to stay stable for a ridiculously long period of time.

If "Into the Storm" had more moments of glorious goofiness like this, it might have worked as the kind of cinematic roofie that is diverting enough on some basic elemental level while you are watching it but impossible to recall any details of the next morning. As it is, the best things that I can say about it are that it is slightly better than "Twister," it clocks in at under 90 minutes and it is not in 3-D. Beyond those decidedly minor qualities, there is absolutely no reason in particular for this movie to even exist other than to separate less discerning moviegoers from their money. That said, if there are enough of those sad individuals to make it successful enough to inspire a sequel--stupider things have happened, though not many--I hope they remember to bring back the Port-A-Potty. That thing is going places.

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originally posted: 08/08/14 04:09:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/29/15 KingNeutron Lots of boring parts, watched it mostly on FF with subtitles 3 stars
8/12/14 action movie fan great storm scenes and people trying to survive=underrated 4 stars
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