What these camerapersons are doing in "Into the Storm" is not very smart. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
'Into the Storm' Director: Steven Quale Stars: Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh Rating: PG-13 2 (out of 5) Globes
Nearly 20 years ago “Twister” became the rare Hollywood blockbuster to exist solely and entirely for its special effects. Today’s fare boasts big, personable actors, usually even jokes. “Twister’ had a couple future Oscar-winners in it (Helen Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman), but the main — and only — draw was the sight of then-stunning (and, frankly, still stunning) CGI used to simulate mother nature at her most belligerent.
The new “Into the Storm” doesn’t have much else going for it either, but it’s still somehow a more endearingly modest affair. Times have changed, though: Severe weather has increased in power and frequency. But never mind that. What’s more powerful is the trend towards found footage movies. And so “Into the Storm” observes a tornado ripping through a suburban town and vicinity through various lenses, some wobbily held by people, others locked down to giant trucks that can hypothetically (or not) withstand this business.
Actually, that’s a lie. Like most found footage films (most recently “The Sacrament”), “Into the Storm” cheats a lot. In fact it cheats so much it’s barely a found footage film. It regularly cuts to “normal” footage, perhaps because there’s not much majesty in footage of giant mega-swirls and hoovered-up buildings and people when it’s unwatchably shaky. In fact, it doesn’t take long into the big, destructive centerpiece — which takes up roughly half the length — to wonder why the filmmakers didn’t bail on it at all. The effects are smoothly integrated into the action, but you can’t always see it clearly. If you’re going to make an immersive blockbuster about tragedies that have become increasingly prevalent in real life, might as well go 3-D.
"The Hobbit"'s Richard Armitage fights to have some kind of character at all in "Into the Storm." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
No one really expects much from the other content in the film, which is to say the characters. To its credit, “Into the Storm” avoids a lot of “Twister”’s stupidities. No one, for instance, has a dumb back story about a tornado killing her father. (That was what Helen Hunt had to work with.) But then it doesn’t have any real characters. They’re all stock, if they have any personality at all. There’s the workaholic father (“The Hobbit”’s Richard Armitage) who has to reconnect with his brooding son. There are interchangeable teens and even more interchangeable TV documentary crew members, risking life and limb to get a good shot when everyone knows you can just punch it up in computers to make things like “Into the Storm.”
The only character with any charge at all is the one played by Matt Walsh, the Uprights Citizen Brigade founding member and current “Veep” great. He’s playing a cliche: He’s the head of the documentary crew, and he’s a big, mean jerk who has to learn to not put work ahead of the safety of his crew. Walsh isn’t exactly burning with killer material here, but he’s a sign of some life, at least, and he gets the one moment where “Into the Storm” goes from merely having cool effects to achieving true transcendence before crashing back to earth.