Into the Storm (2014)
Into the Storm is like the underachieving high school football hero who, knowing that he lacks any other talents to have much of a career beyond manual labor, rides his athletic greatness as hard as he possibly can in the hope that he'll play for a big college team, stand out from the pack, and go pro. This film is lacking in pretty much every area that makes a film good -- the characters are one-note ciphers, their actors are either wooden or bored, the dialogue is just filler to get to the good stuff (if you're wondering what that is, look at the poster), the found footage conceit serves no purpose whatsoever, and the only two interesting people in this film are the two comic relief amateur stormchasers/daredevils who get taken out halfway in (no spoilers in saying that those dumbasses are screwed). If it weren't for the special effects, there would be nothing setting this apart from any number of made-for-SyFy disaster movies that are just excuses to throw destruction at the screen (and often aren't half as self-aware as the likes of Sharknado).
But oh my God, the special effects in this are so absolutely mind-blowing that they almost make up for it. When the cameras are pointed at Mutha Nature rather than the people trying to survive her fury, I was on the edge of my seat. The tornadoes, and the destruction they leave in their wake, are some of the most awe-inspiring action set-pieces I've seen all year, and on a budget of just $50 million, at that. While it's slow-going in the first act, once it's thirty minutes in the film does not skimp on the tornado action, showing, in vivid detail, tornadoes ravaging high schools, small towns, suburbia, and even an airport. A tornado hits a burning tanker truck, sucks the burning fuel into its funnel, and gets set on fire. It delivers, at the very least, absolutely everything it promised in the trailers -- Weather Gone Wild, ruining everybody's day. If District 9 didn't prove that you don't need nine-figure blockbuster money to make an incredibly exciting, effects-filled spectacle, this film should do the trick. Director Steven Quale, for all his problems with storytelling, made what is, on a purely visceral level, one of the most thrilling action movies of the summer, and desperately needs to find some better screenwriters to work with for his next movie.
Because just about everything else about this movie sucked all the energy out of the room. The film mainly follows two groups of people: a team of professional stormchasers who are short of cash and need some great footage if they're to pay the bills, and a high school principal and his son who are looking for the other son, who was helping a girl film a project for her internship and is now missing. Most of the cast, composed of TV actors and unknowns, give lifeless performances that make it feel like they were there for the paychecks more than anything. Richard Armitage struggles to cover up his British accent and comes off as awkward in the role of a Midwestern high school principal, while Sarah Wayne Callies shows little emotion over the fact that, for three months, her character has only seen her daughter through video chat. Furthermore, the characters get only the barest whiff of backstory and development over the course of the film, with the only one who does anything interesting being Matt Walsh as the stormchasers' leader whose mistakes on the job force a change of heart in him. Disaster movies about larger-than-life events need larger-than-life characters to serve as our heroes, and nobody here ever steps up to the plate. I could not be bothered to give one whit about any of these people, making their struggles to survive feel like hollow filler.
There's also the "found footage" conceit that the film runs on, with all of the action taking place from the POV of either the stormchasers' cameras or the son's video camera that he was using to shoot a video record for the graduation time capsule. To their credit, the found footage elements are unintrusive, rarely succumbing to the curse of shaky-cam and demonstrating that the director knows that, when making a movie about tornadoes wrecking stuff, people want to see the tornadoes wrecking stuff. There's also the occasional moment where it's exploited for a great, unique moment, like when one of the guys drops his camera and it gets sucked into the tornado. However, such moments are few and far between, the film otherwise doing nothing interesting with its found footage idea, and it often betrays it anyway by frequently employing dramatic music to add more punch to many scenes and featuring a number of shots that were clearly not taken by the characters on the ground. In my opinion, the film would've been much better served by using a more conventional approach, saving the found footage parts only for a few key scenes.
Score: 2 out of 5
The action and special effects are gorgeous, I'll give it that. But they just barely make up for awful writing, dull characters, and poor acting that make every scene where the tornadoes aren't on screen feel like a waste of time. Even the most dedicated thrillseekers are advised to wait for Redbox.