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Dustin Putman

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Into the Storm  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by Steven Quale.
Cast: Sarah Wayne Callies, Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh, Nathan Kress, Max Deacon, Alycia Debnam Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter, Lee Whittaker, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep, Scott Lawrence, Brandon Ruiter, David Drumm.
2014 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 6, 2014.
"Into the Storm" is fictional—and exceedingly so, in spite of the connection it tries to make with real-life weather events Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy—but it won't exactly put at ease those viewers who continue to live along Middle America's tornado alley. Directed by Steven Quale (2011's "Final Destination 5") and penned by John Swetnam (2014's "Step Up: All In"), the picture imagines the threat and grandiosity of a series of meteorological sucker-punches leading to the onslaught of the largest twister in history. It is a junk-food thriller with skillfully believable special effects and a lurchingly ham-fisted script, one that commands attention and spurs resulting groans in equal measure.

The day after a tornado claims the lives of four teenagers in Northern Oklahoma, the Titus storm-chasing team consisting of veteran leader Pete (Matt Walsh), workaholic meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), and camera operators Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) and Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter) are on the trail of intensifying storm cells encroaching upon the area. Their travels ultimately take them to the small town of Silverton, where a series of massive tornadoes are about to touch down on the day of the high school's end-of-year graduation ceremony. Struggling to keep the rest of his family intact, widowed vice principal Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage) journeys into the devastation with younger teenage son Trey (Nathan Kress) to find their 16-year-old son and brother Donnie (Max Deacon). They do not realize the worst is yet to come.

"Twister" for the YouTube generation, "Into the Storm" is a stylistically confused action-drama positioned early on with a first-person POV incorporating on-the-fly amateur footage with a time capsule video project Donnie and Trey are shooting. It isn't long before this is mostly tossed out in preference of a traditional storytelling approach. If a film wants to go the so-called "found-footage" route, it should really commit to it or not even bother trying in the first place. By picking and choosing the method in which a narrative is unspooled based solely on convenience, director Steven Quale exhibits a corners-cutting lack of creativity. That the movie arrives with a full orchestral score throughout contributes to the artifice.

The screenplay is of little help when it comes to buying into its stockpile characters. It is true that audiences should not be expecting poetry from a big summertime disaster movie, but the hackneyed writing and ineloquent handling of key dramatic moments keep rearing their ugly heads. Not much is learned about Allison except that her job has kept her away from her 5-year-old daughter for three months, all the more odd since it is later established that little Grace is being watched by Allison's parents just a few hours away. The contentiousness found in father Gary and elder son Donnie's relationship is obvious and uninspired, while the addition of two broadly conceived daredevil rednecks named Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) is seriously detrimental to the proceedings every time they show up. Whoever thought it was wise that the movie conclude with these two painfully unctuous doofuses should have been talked out of it by saner minds. Almost as misguided is a scene where Donnie and classmate Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) record good-bye messages to their families when they become trapped in a potentially fatal situation. This is very clearly the "Blair Witch" moment in the film, and it couldn't possibly be more clunky, unconvincing and manipulative.

There are good actors featured in "Into the Storm"—Sarah Wayne Callies (TV's "The Walking Dead") and the chameleonic Richard Armitage (2013's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug") struggle to do more than is asked of them as protagonists Allison and Gary, while Nathan Kress (formerly of Disney Channel's "iCarly"), as Trey, and Jeremy Sumpter (2011's "Soul Surfer"), as in-over-his-head cameraman Jacob, also outclass the material—but they are strictly props used to be blown around by enormous on-set wind machines. The highlight of the film is certainly the sheer spectacle brought about by the CG effects artists, depicting enormous swirling cyclones out to obliterate everything in their paths. Two particular scenes stand out, one involving a fiery, gasoline-fueled twister and another in which a character in his vehicle is lifted into—and then, horrifyingly, above—the eye of a tornado. These are patently ridiculous moments, but also exemplify, if only for a few glorious fleeting seconds, the wondrous places which cinema is capable of going. In between the destruction, "Into the Storm" gets buried in its own rubble of excess banality and mugging.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman