[Screen It]


(2014) (Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies) (PG-13)

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Action/Disaster: Various people must contend with an outbreak of tornadoes that ravage a small town.
For storm chaser and documentary filmmaker Pete Moore (MATT WALSH), it's been a long dry spell since he and his crew -- cameramen Daryl (ARLEN ESCARPETA), Lucas (LEE WHITTAKER) and newcomer Jacob (JEREMY SUMPTER) -- have gotten any decent footage of tornadoes in action. Even the addition of meteorologist Allison Stone (SARAH WAYNE CALLIES) hasn't seemed to help any, and now with his funding cut off, he's become desperate and sees the latest series of severe storms as his last chance to get what he's after. Despite having lost all confidence in her weather prediction skills, Pete follows Allison's advice to head to the small town of Silverton.

There, Silverton High School vice principal Gary Fuller (RICHARD ARMITAGE) is preparing for their graduation ceremonies and has little time for his 17-year-old son, Donnie (MAX DEACON), making a time capsule video, something Gary previously requested. Donnie's more outgoing younger brother, Trey (NATHAN KRESS), thinks that Donnie should do something for himself, and thus the junior offers to help classmate Kaitlyn (ALYCIA DEBNAM CAREY) reshoot some video at an abandoned mill for a class project rather than video the graduation ceremony for his dad.

As amateur storm chasers and local goofballs Donk (KYLE DAVIS) and Reevis (JON REEP) throw all caution to the wind by going into the storms, Pete and his crew do the same, all while the Fuller men and everyone else in Silverton are unprepared for the outbreak of tornadoes that are about to strike their town.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When it comes to natural disasters, I've seen my share of severe (and damaging) thunderstorms and even gone through some tropical storms. But I've never been through a full-fledged hurricane or a tornado. Of course, the former are easy to predict and thus witness (or avoid) with precision, while the latter are random events that occur without a lot of advance notice.

That said, I've seen a few waterspouts (from a distance) in my lifetime, but missed the one that came within a few hundred feet of a condo we own and often frequent. I've certainly never been through nor seen (in person) the aftermath of those massive ones that often strike the Midwest or South, and can't imagine the feeling of knowing one's coming, taking shelter, and then coming up to find one's home and neighborhood so devastated as to be unrecognizable.

Considering how widespread they are in the U.S., it's somewhat surprising that there haven't been more films about these destructive forces of nature. Yet, some of those that have been made have stuck in the collective psyche of moviegoers for years and even generations. The granddaddy of them all, of course, was "The Wizard of Oz" where a twister transported Dorothy and Toto out of Kansas and dropped their house on a decidedly wicked witch.

That terrified me (and plenty of others) when I saw that as a kid, but in terms of a more realistic representation, that had nothing on 1996's "Twister" that focused on rival storm chasers trying to get data on such massive vortexes. Then, of course, there was a serious step backwards in terms of realism with "Sharknado" and its recent sequel that, well, and not particularly surprisingly considering the title, featured sharks in tornadoes.

The latest such flick, "Into the Storm," has omitted the man-eaters and much (but certainly not all) of the goofiness in delivering tornado related thrills and chills in what's trying to be a late summer, edge of your seat popcorn thriller. It certainly has its share of intense moments, but as an overall film it's a hit or miss affair that's okay when the winds are blowing and the special effects crews are hard at work, but is mediocre to quite bad when the humans speak or go about traversing whatever their individual drama happens to be that day.

For a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage coming off about as bland as possible), it's preparing for the end of the year graduation (that they still try to pull off, outdoors no less, despite radar showing an intense line of thunderstorms baring down on them), all while his teenage son (Max Deacon) pines for his classmate (Alycia Debnam Carey) and his younger brother (Nathan Kress) eggs him on to do something for himself.

Then there's the head of a storm chaser team (Matt Walsh) who doesn't like or believe in his meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies) and has three cameramen (Arlen Escarpeta, Lee Whittaker and Jeremy Sumpter) who are so uninteresting and underwritten that you know one or more of them is going to be sucked up like a hairball facing down a Dyson vacuum cleaner. And in the unfortunate role of presumed comic relief (and apparent attempt to appease any "Jackass" sort of viewers) are two wild goofballs (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) who are looking to become famous on the Internet via their stupid stunts or amateur storm chasing.

Despite the efforts of director Steven Quale and screenwriter John Swetnam, we never really care about any of them, except by default, although I imagine some viewers will be rooting for the twisters to do their thing when it comes to disposing of certain characters. And that very issue significantly impacts how emotionally engaged we are with them within the action sequences.

Yes, some of those are thrilling, but since we aren't bonded with the characters, there's little to no involvement in the outcome other than just the in-the-moment visceral experience. And even that's a bit jeopardized when things seem to go too far, be that in the number of twisters "attacking" in any given moment to the lifting of large-body airliners (from an airport that appears out of nowhere and oddly exists in this tiny town).

Not extreme or entertaining enough to be a true guilty pleasure (along the lines of "Sharknado"), "Into the Storm" huffs and puffs a great deal, but isn't likely to blow anyone's doors down. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 5, 2014 / Posted August 8, 2014

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