Incompetence Reigns In Dreadful "Into The Storm"

As anyone who’s ever lived in America’s heartland can attest, the mere threat of a tornado is terrifying. The eerie silence and green-colored sky before the storm, the blare of sirens that signals but a minute or two of advance notice, and the screeching white noise that accompanies the National Weather Service’s warnings. Scarier still? That Warner Bros.’ ostensible tornado-thriller “Into The Storm” isn’t aware of any of these things, content to show off its array of unlikely super-storms through suspense-free, blunt-force CGI setpieces bookended by some of the most useless human characters in disaster movie history.

The film is nearly poetic in its inanity – a veritable man-made disaster about natural disasters – curiously masquerading as a theatrical release when it belongs in the darkest recesses of your local dollar store. Dreadfully scripted, poorly acted, and full up with sub-SyFy Channel original movie thrills that don’t scratch the lowliest of cinematic itches, the proverbial best seat in the house for “Into The Storm” is any seat not in a theater showing “Into The Storm.” It delivers the most ineffectual, pre-packaged thrills imaginable without a hint of self-awareness.

Steven Quale’s film begins under the labored guise of found footage, an idea that it sticks with for all of three minutes before leaning heavily on third-person camera work that couldn’t possibly be the work of any of its camcorder-toting characters. Moreover, the film – which posits itself as a pseudo-documentary – has no idea how boom and lavalier microphones work, reliably producing crisp sound without a microphone in sight. Lapses like these aren’t deal breakers, but the sheer number of technical blunders demonstrates the filmmakers’ exceptionally poor eye for detail. Still, it’s no match for their tin ear for dialogue.

The narrative is inhabited by three uniquely intolerable sets of characters. First a group of the world’s worst tornado chasers and documentarians, one of whom (Matt Walsh) openly laments not having seen a tornado in the past year. Hard to do in a country that sees over a thousand annually. Furthermore, resident meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) bemoans not having seen her young daughter in three months, despite being a mere 200 miles away. It’s difficult to tell if the work of Walsh and Callies is that putrid, or if blame lies solely at the feet of writer John Swetnam, but it hardly matters. It’s across-the-board awful.

Group two, a batch of insufferable high schoolers mostly unaware of the impending bad weather, and thirdly, a group of redneck daredevils who refer to themselves as “Twista Hunterz.” In film loaded with one-dimensional characters, these hillbilly stereotypes make up for in loathsomeness what they lack in distinctness, rendering the screenplay’s more uninteresting roles – read: everyone else – all the more palatable. Viewers will root hard for their deaths, and rightfully so. Somehow, Richard Armitage (“The Hobbit”) is tangled up in this mess as one of the high schoolers’ father, and it’s a significant blight on a promising career.

If “Into The Storm” has one redeeming feature, it’s that it ends in a mercifully short 90 minutes, overstaying its welcome by a mere 89 minutes. Ultimately, it’s a harrowing reminder that technology has come far enough that amateurs can now manage reasonably compelling special effects, making clear that just about anyone can slap together a CGI bonanza. It might be a blessing in disguise, demanding more than spectacle from more gifted filmmakers, but it’s hard to find much of a silver lining in something as wholly hopeless as “Into The Storm.”

Complete with fire tornadoes – an actual thing in the movie – a hilariously jingoistic, pin-you-to-your-seat awful epilogue, and all the groan-inducing (but not quite bad enough to be interesting) dialogue anyone could ask for, the pic is a storm cloud that will hang over cast, crew, and audiences alike long after its end credits roll. If nothing else, it shines a new light on Jan de Bont’s “Twister,” a perfectly entertaining tornado-centric B-movie in its own right. And anything that gives Bill Paxton a boost in self-esteem can’t be all bad.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: August 8, 2014
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.)
Director: Steven Quale
Screenwriter: John Swetnam
Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Jeremy Sumpter, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep, Scott Lawrence
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references)