“Into the Storm” is a film with a single goal (well, two if you count making money). It wants to stick you in the middle of a tornado and give you the thrill of surviving a catastrophic storm. And in that, it succeeds.
But if you are looking for plot, characterization, logic, acting, strict adherence to the laws of physics, believable accents or really anything else, you’ve come to the wrong place. Watching "Into the Storm" is like cherry-picking all the marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms.
The film is set in Oklahoma during the springtime. A small-town high school is about to send its graduating class off into the unknown. We meet characters — kids, adults, elderly people. We know they’re just cannon fodder.
There’s also a team of storm chasers in the area. They haven’t had much luck filming a tornado, in spite of their dozens of cameras and a high-tech tank called the Titus that looks like it was pulled out of an old GI Joe toy line.
Lucky for them (and us), the tornadoes start. One follows another. Destruction happens. People are separated. Other people are pulled up into the air, along with lots of other things. Chaos rules. Rednecks are elated. It’s loud, it’s crazy and, to be honest, it’s fun.
You almost get the feeling that if director Steven Quale had just cut all of the character bits out of the film and stuck with the action footage, he might have come up with a better product. Because watching “Into the Storm” is really just spending 90 minutes alternating between being wowed by CGI tornadoes and laughing at the people trying to survive them.
It’s fun to play “name that supporting actor” with all of the vaguely familiar faces in the cast. “Into the Storm” has no Helen Hunt for this 2014 answer to 1996's "Twister." But “Walking Dead” fans will surely recognize Sarah Wayne Callies as the meteorologist Allison. “Hobbit” fans will smile as Richard Armitage struggles with his American accent while playing the desperate single father Gary. Best of all, fans of TV’s “Community” will love the fact that the racist trampoline keeper from season 2 (Matt Walsh) plays the egomaniacal storm chaser Pete.
Still, that just underscores one of the film’s major flaws. For some reason, “Into the Storm” spreads its plot among an ensemble cast instead of digging in with a character or two that we might start to care about. The reasoning may be to provide multiple perspectives on the same event, but the more unfortunate effect is to alienate us from anyone we’re watching onscreen at any particular time. At one point, two desperate teens begin recording confessional goodbyes to friends and family when they get trapped in a flooding basement, but after spending only about 10 minutes of screen time with them, the audience won’t be shedding many tears.
And yet, the storm effects in this film are fun enough that most of the time you won’t care. Nobody’s going to this film for nuance or scientific accuracy. In terms of movie “quality,” it would be tempting to relegate this one to rental status, but there’s really no way to properly experience the strengths of “Into the Storm” without seeing it on the big screen, surrounded with a massive sound system.
Just know that you’ve been warned.
“Into the Storm” is rated PG-13 for generous mayhem, profanity and some mild sexual content.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.