Be careful what you wish for, especially if you are a storm chaser.
“Come on, baby,” Pete (Matt Walsh) says, beckoning to the tornadoes headed his way in rural Oklahoma. But going “Into the Storm” means trying to survive the fury of an EF5 tornado with winds of 300 mph along with a freaky fire tornado, skinny rope twisters and other meteorological menaces.
'Into the Storm' movie trailers
Storm trackers, thrill-seekers, and everyday townspeople document an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes touching down in the town of Silverton.
Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references.
Pete is a single-minded storm chaser and documentary maker who is part of a two-vehicle caravan looking for a tornado, the bigger and beastlier the better. He’s traveling with young cameramen along with Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a meteorologist and single mother who reads the radar for Pete who grouses, “It’s an instinct game and she ain’t got it.”
However, she leads them to a small town holding its high school graduation ceremony outside just as the rain, hail and winds arrive and drive them inside. The school is where widowed dad Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage) is vice principal and where one of his teenage sons is capturing the commencement on camera and his other has slipped away with a girl to document conditions at an abandoned paper plant.
The story strands, along with some comic relief provided by beer-drinking, thrill-seeking idiots who have watched too much cable TV, merge just like the storms. Although Pete, hunkered down in a variation of a tank outfitted with grappling claws to plant the vehicle while the winds wail, still wants footage, pretty much everyone else is just trying to survive.
At times, when the wind lifts parked airplanes and tractor-trailers into the air and sends them swirling, the movie is somewhat reminiscent of cable TV’s “Sharknado” but with far, far better visual effects and no star cameos or even the sorts of actors who populated 1996’s “Twister” in their pre-Oscar days.
Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt played a husband-and-wife storm chasers who go after Oklahoma twisters and end up saving their marriage as they dodge flying cows, trucks and dancing funnels. With a cast also including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz and Cary Elwes, “Twister” made nearly $495 million worldwide and was No. 2 for the year in North America behind “Independence Day.”
Few moviegoers may be lured to “Into the Storm” by the performers, director Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”) or screenwriter, John Swetnam, a relative novice who also scripted “Step Up All In” opening today. The story requires some leaps of faith, as when storm refugees are sent to school buses that just happen to have drivers or keys in the ignition and people who can take the wheel, or seemingly doomed characters seem to be speaking to a camera nowhere in sight or operation.
The appeal here is almost all storms all the time and the effects, both sights and sounds, are realistic and so impressive you’ll want to assemble a storm survival kit. It is unnerving, however, to watch a movie set in Oklahoma where real-life schools were destroyed and children killed in May 2013; one smart move here is keeping Allison’s 5-year-old daughter out of the fray and focusing strictly on high school students, adults and one dog, not little kids.
“Into the Storm” puts the disaster in disaster movie, even if the flying debris, churning skies and killer winds are often more interesting than the people in their path.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.