"Into the Storm" is a movie that addresses the fearsome power of nature. Alas, it also addresses the fearsome power of a bad script to distract us from the fearsome power of nature.
Add to that a set of cardboard characters, and what you have is a movie that should have dispensed with the humans and dialogue altogether, and been a documentary. If, of course, the storms were real. Which they aren't.
The film, directed by Steven Quale, runs only 89 minutes. And yet, despite the often engrossing special effects, it drags. It seems there are only so many times you can watch a funnel cloud bear down, while someone yells out: "We gotta get out of here. C'mon!"
The action takes place in one day in the small town of Silverton, somewhere in the heartland. Four high school students have just been killed in a tornado in Oklahoma, which is somewhere nearby.
And yet, Silverton's high school is planning to go ahead with its outdoor graduation, despite the forecast. Maybe this is why Vice Principal Gary Fuller — Richard Armitage, the dwarf leader Thorin of the "Hobbit" movies — is frowning, a state in which he remains throughout the film (his Thorin, though shorter, was much more expressive.) He heads to school with his teenage sons, Donnie and Trey.
Meanwhile, a storm-tracking team is on the chase, led by a driven, self-centered documentary filmmaker, Pete (Matt Walsh). He's spent years developing the perfect storm-tracking vehicle — the Titus, a war tank with giant claws that can bore into the ground amid high winds.
Pete's main assistant is a no-nonsense meteorologist, Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a single mom to a five-year-old daughter, whom she's left home for three months with Grandma. Gary, the vice principal, is also a single parent. But though an eventual romance is briefly hinted at between these attractive folks literally caught in a storm, the idea is dropped, like a piece of twisted wreckage from the sky. (John Swetnam wrote the screenplay.)
In any case, back to that graduation. Before the kids can toss their caps into the air, the storm hits — a series of tornadoes like no one has ever seen. Making things worse, Gary's older son, Donnie, is missing — he's ditched graduation to help a pretty girl make a video at an abandoned paper mill. They'll soon be trapped by rising waters, and making goodbye videos to their parents.
Speaking of those videos: The movie uses a found-footage device to tell its story. These snippets of "real" video are supposed to lend a documentary-style feel, but they're often ditched for conventional storytelling, rendering the whole idea ineffective.
But that's not the biggest problem. What's worse is that there's nothing interesting about any of these characters, with the possible exception of Donnie (Max Deacon) — the only person you care about, even a little.
There are also a couple of stereotypical dufuses — Donk and Reevis — who drink and swear and whoop and holler as the storm comes in. Darned if they're not the most annoying characters in any movie you'll see this entire year. We'd bet money on it.
In any case, the star — the ONLY star — is the weather. Director Quale knows his way around special effects, and so the CGI tornadoes are interesting to watch, for a time. But there's little attention to logic. Silverton is a small town. And yet, we suddenly see huge jet planes, like those you'd find at JFK or LAX, being lifted up into the sky. Where'd they come from?
Maybe that's not the point. Maybe we should just sit back and be awed by the power of Mother Nature.
OK. But she deserved a better script.
"Into the Storm," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references." Running time: 89 minutes. One-half star out of four.
MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.