August 6, 2014

‘Into the Storm’: Hot air of all kinds

Scary effects get lost amid hokey sentiments, an imbecilic script and bland performances.

I doubt it’s possible to spoil something that’s already rotten, but here’s your warning: This review contains spoilers. I am determined to get some pleasure out of having endured “Into the Storm” – other than enjoyable special effects and one supporting actor – and the only way to do that is to point out some shortcomings. To list them all would require a book as long as Deuteronomy.

An example: It takes place in Silverton, a Midwestern city with two main streets. Yet at the climax, when the largest tornado in world history blows through, it snatches up the kinds of jet planes you’d find parked at an international airport. I laughed, but not so hard that I missed the film’s biggest boner: The same 300 mph winds could not knock a walking man off his feet.

Many movies require us to turn off our brains, and many rely on clichés and/or coincidences. It takes a special kind of shamelessness to do both, and “Into the Storm” has that in spades.

The principal of the local high school, warned that an enormous tornado is about to touch down that afternoon, decides to go ahead with an outdoor graduation. A professional storm chaser in a vehicle that cost over $100,000 entrusts the main camera on the shoot to a rookie photographer.

And when a distant dad warns his alienated son that the boy shouldn’t carry a pocket knife, you can bet its blade will be used over and over to save lives that day – including the other son, who is trapped (I kid you not) with his beautiful would-be girlfriend at a collapsed toxic waste plant at the edge of Silverton.

Meanwhile, drunk redneck idiots Donk and Reevis git on after that ol’ storm in their battered red truck, the Twista Hunter, hoping to capture it on cellphones. Any hopes that they’ll be splintered like matchsticks come to naught, even after the funnel snatches them high into the air and hurls down their unprotected bodies. (Hickory native Jon Reep, a successful standup comic, plays Reevis. In his first feature, “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” he played a redneck idiot named Raymus.)

The movie wastes one sincere, quietly emotional performance by Max Deacon as the boy who thinks his last moments will come in that collapsed plant. Richard Armitage, so effective in the “Hobbit” series, wears an expression of slumberous anxiety through “Into the Storm,” though Sarah Wayne Callies provides some energy as the smartest storm chaser.

The tornadoes do look and sound terrifying, and the film pitches them at us one after another. One shot of a character sucked into a whirling pillar of fire stayed with me afterward. But complimenting a moronic, maudlin movie for that quality is like praising a snot sandwich because it comes on a fresh baguette.

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