||“Suds in the Cyclone” might be a better title for this old-fashioned disaster movie, a “Twister” on steroids that employs massive amounts of CGI imagery to depict the destructive impact of a bevy of tornadoes on the fictional city of Silverton while ladling on soap opera clichés to add a “human” touch. The bulk of the movie consists of the visual effects that show buildings, cars, planes being shattered and swallowed up in the funnels as electrical lines pop and the sound engineers pour on the wind and thunder. But of course a few human beings, or what passes for them in movies like this, are necessary, though in this case they’re played not by the often over-the-hill stars that populated the pictures Irwin Allen used to make but actors who at best you might dimly recall from their previous work.
A good many of the tissue-paper-thin characters are storm chasers led by Pete (Matt Walsh), a cynical veteran who tools around in a self-designed tank-like vehicle he calls Titan, equipped not only with state-of-the-art cameras but grappling hooks that can go deep into the ground to provide ballast against high winds. Since he’s missed out on the action of late, he’s reluctantly accepted the aid of pretty meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), who tracks storms via computer data rather than the instinct Pete prefers to depend on. They have helpers in blasé veteran driver Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta) and his buddy, nervous novice cameraman Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter), as well as a guy named Lucas (Lee Whittaker), who’s absent for much of the picture but shows up in the final reels to serve as another potential victim.
There are also locals, of course, most notably widower Gary Morris (Richard Armitage), the Assistant Principal at the town’s high school, where his sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) are compiling the senior class video diary and preparing to shoot the outdoor graduation ceremony. But Donnie will hand all the duties over to Trey in order to accompany pretty classmate Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Cary), for whom he’s long harbored a secret crush, to a deserted factory to get some footage for an essay she’s submitting to colleges. The only other Silverton residents of note are Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), a couple of local yokels who risk life and limb in crazy stunts to get shots of the twisters on their cameraphones.
This line-up should let you predict fairly accurately what’s going to happen. Some of the characters will perish and others survive. Some will be imperiled while others will act courageously to rescue them, occasionally sacrificing themselves in the process. And Donk and Reevis will show up periodically to do their Two Stooges shtick and provide low-grade comic relief. Surrounding the main cast are lesser folk who will run in screaming packs away from the storms or be given a moment or two to register as types—the nerd, the jock, the officious principal, the cantankerous neighbor, etc. It’s well-nigh impossible to care much about any of these people despite strenuous script efforts to get you to (by harping on the difficulty Gary’s had showing affection for his boys after his wife’s death, or on Allison’s concern about being separated from her little daughter), because they’re sketchily written and played without particular distinction by a cast of relative unknowns—though some viewers will recognize Kress and Sumpter from their juvenile roles, or Armitage from his work in “The Hobbit,” or Callies from “The Walking Dead,” or comedian Walsh from “Veep.”
But in a picture like this it’s the destructive effects, not the people, that really matter, and they’re technically better than you might expect, though obviously computer-generated. The integration of live-action footage into the background visuals is less convincing: the sight of the characters running around while huge hunks of debris are swirling around them strains credulity, and one scene obviously designed as a “money shot”—in which a character is dragged in flames into a funnel that’s caught on fire—is particularly poorly done. Some problems also arise from the decision to frame the entire narrative in terms of a “found footage” compilation, since it’s difficult to believe that much of what we’re shown could have been shot during such a calamity, especially since cinematographer Brian Pearson has happily eschewed the use of the hand-held shaky-cam technique in favor of shots that are fairly stable and secure and editor Eric A. Sears has stitched them together quite crisply, resulting in a mercifully brief 89-minute running-time. Brian Tyler’s score sounds fine, when one can hear it over the din of the sound effects.
“Into the Storm” doesn’t carry the wallop that “Twister” did in 1996, simply because CGI has gotten so pervasive by now that viewers are blasé about the visual wizardry. And despite the absurdity of the plot the picture is painfully earnest, except for the tedious redneck shenanigans of Donk and Reeve. But while one might regret that there are no sharks in the whirlwinds, the movie will probably satisfy those looking for a cinematic roller-coaster ride that requires no thought or emotional investment.