“Into the Storm” is in theaters, and one might call it the first real theatrical film about storm chasing since “Twister” in 1996. I wouldn’t, however, because the film’s “storm chasing” couldn’t be farther from the real thing. This is disaster porn, plain and simple.
In sensibility, Steven Quale’s film is closer to a TV movie, with a grim main plot (tornadoes terrorize a small town, especially its teenagers, while the incompetent “chasers” try to film and survive them) and one outlandish but funny subplot (YouTube-loving rednecks chase the tornadoes, slapstick-style).
What does “Into the Storm” have going for it? Incredible computer graphics. These are among the best stormy special effects I’ve ever seen. But they are supported by a story and characters that inspire more unintentional laughter than suspense and thrills. Cool tornado sequences do not equate to great drama or exciting action. There’s a lot of drudgery between the tornadoes, and even the deaths are highly predictable.
“Twister” was no masterpiece, but it did have a sense of humor, memorable characters and dialogue, and a compelling story arc. The script in “Into the Storm” lacks those, but it may be remembered (by storm chasers, at least) for its loopy inaccuracies. When the supposedly multi-degreed researcher (Sarah Ann Callies) says the “systems” are too chaotic to track, or when said researcher/forecaster is taken completely by surprise by hail and tornadoes and gets her warnings from television, or when the radar displayed on their wall of monitors doesn’t match the weather, or when the chase team keeps talking about seeing a “vortex,” or when the team just sits around waiting for storms that supposedly are already in progress, you have to wonder what kind of stupid chasers they are. It’s especially disheartening that Callies’ character, the one major female role in the film, is such a dolt. But nobody in this film can be called a genius. With a $50 million budget, could the filmmakers not have taken a storm chaser out to dinner and asked a few questions about how storms and chasing really work?
The chasers drive around in a tank reminiscent of Sean Casey’s Tornado Intercept Vehicle, helmed by a jerk named Pete (Matt Walsh). But like all of the characters, he is barely developed and kind of bland. I can’t blame the actors entirely. They didn’t have much to work with. Perhaps most sympathetic is Richard Armitage as the dad/school official who tries to get everyone to safety. He’s dour but believable.
Credibility in the film is further strained by its halfhearted documentary style. The story is supposedly told through various video camera footage — including excruciatingly long speeches by teens in peril – but not convincingly so.
By the time the “eye of the tornado” appears, some audience giggling is inevitable. I hated to laugh at all of these earnest folks, especially when some of the movie seems inspired by (one might say exploits) the deadly Joplin tornado, but I fear it’s just too silly to take seriously. And it really wants you to take it seriously. If you added some sharks, it would be a different story.
Chris Kridler is a storm chaser who once wrote movie reviews for The Baltimore Sun and has penned her own storm-chasing adventures, the Storm Seekers trilogy.