Into the Storm Attempts to Find the Fun in Destroying American Towns

Into the Storm Attempts to Find the Fun in Destroying American Towns
Ron Phillips

Into the Storm
Directed by Steven Quale
Warner Bros.
Now playing

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Incompatible fronts collide in director Steven Quale's weather-horror patience-tester Into the Storm. The first is the summertime yen for righteous kablooey, the dumber the better, exemplified here by drunk galoots hauling ass into a twister on a four-wheeler ATV, tossing beer cans and whooping about getting a "million YouTube hits." Another character actually calls them "idjits," because Hollywood assumes 2014 flyover country takes vocab cues from Yosemite Sam.

Not that there's much flying over happening here: In the climactic mega-funnel, jets and eighteen wheelers flit about like dollar bills in one of those county-fair grab-the-money booths. That's one of several audaciously dumb bits: Just moments after seeing four twisters touch down, including one on fire, and destroy the movie's Everytown Main Street, a teenage boy glances at meteorological equipment he's never seen before and cries out, "It's getting worse!" Genuinely impressive is an image of scream-along poetry, a trip up and through the top of a tornado, where we get to hang in the calm sunshine for a couple breaths before being sucked back in. Seriously, two different guys at the screening I caught shouted "Oh, shit!" at the same time.

So, the flick's got blockbuster bona fides and an of-the-moment, found-footage aesthetic, although director Quale abandons it for long stretches. Too bad all that razzle-dazzle keeps smashing into that second front, our real-world memories of Joplin, Greensburg, and those three days in 2011, when tornadoes killed 348 Americans. Have we ever before seen such big-ticket escapist entertainment about the awesomeness of something that so recently killed so many of us? Doesn't it usually take longer before everyone's eager for candy spun from trauma?

The CGI effects are too goofy to take seriously, but the devastated homes and streets look like devastated homes and streets, and the post-climax scenes of tattered American flags and survivors coming together to heal could be well-shot news footage -- save for the glaringly false way two of the male leads are now paired up with happenin' ladies they connected with during their tornado adventures. The character beats -- and there are a lot of them -- are hokily old-fashioned, more evidence of the filmmakers' irreconcilable impulses. At the end, instead of looking horrified as they lurk around in the ruins of everything they have ever loved, these harried survivors are all immediately beaming with the certainty that they've each learned a lesson about what life's really about.

Too cartoonish to be cathartic, and too ghoulish to be honest fun, Into the Storm is mostly a somewhat uncomfortable sit enlivened by occasional hilariousness, like when it implies that the obsessive storm chaser played by Matt Walsh (hilarious as Mike on Veep) might be in cahoots with the tornadoes.

Biggest disappointment: The lack of a Marvel-style, post-credits stinger revealing that the villain next time is hail.

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