Mystery Science Theatre usually dealt in small-budget fiascos, but if it were around today its makers would have found “Geostorm” hard to resist. Despite the fact that it apparently had a substantial budget—anything Jerry Bruckheimer is connected with is bound to be a “major” production—it’s as loony as any of the mini-bombs MST regularly skewered, a preposterous blend of cautionary tale (which like “Frankenstein” warns us of how dangerous it is to toy with Mother Nature), cheesy over-the-top disaster epic and goofy political skulduggery that is almost bad enough to become a camp classic.
The first absurdity that the movie asks viewers to swallow is that a character played by swaggering Gerard Butler can be accepted as a scientific genius who invented Dutch Boy, an intricate system of satellites, controlled from a gigantic space station, which solves the problem of climate change by controlling the weather across the globe and preventing cataclysms from occurring anywhere. Butler can be convincing as a bull-headed secret service agent, but an intellectual is frankly beyond his range.
As the picture opens, Butler’s Jake Lawson is being grilled by contentious senator Cross (Richard Schiff), who is incensed at his insubordination, despite the fact that the enormous project is working as promised. Unfortunately, as far as Cross is concerned, the whole apparatus is shortly to be turned over by the U.S. to an international consortium, and the altercation results in Jake being sacked and replaced by his more diplomatic younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess), which causes a rift between them.
Several years later the system goes awry, freezing the inhabitants of a village in Afghanistan to death and disrupting Hong Kong with a gas explosion caused by extreme heat. Is this the result of some simple malfunction, or sabotage? And if the latter, who’s behind it, and why? To find out, Max, under prodding from President Palma (Andy Garcia) and Secretary of State Dekkom (Ed Harris), persuades Jake to return to the station to conduct a full inquiry alongside station commander Ute Fassbinder (Alexandra Maria Lara), while Max remains on earth, working with his tech-savvy aide Dana (Zazie Beetz) and secret service agent Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish), to unravel the nefarious plot that has weaponized Dutch Boy in much the same way that the villains turned satellites into instruments of doom in the recent Vin Diesel bomb “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage.”
The difference here is that the satellites don’t just blow things up; they cause devastating hail, tidal waves and storms that are mere opening acts for the titular geostorm that threatens to engulf the earth. That allows first-time director Dean Devlin, who also co-wrote the script with Paul Guyot, to insert lots of scenes of mass destruction of the sort that he utilized with such success in the screenplay he wrote with Roland Emmerich for “Independence Day.” Unhappily, the CGI effects in these sequences are not top-drawer, looking chintzy and unconvincing by today’s standards. The same can be said of the more conventional action scenes, like the self-destruction of the space station and the simultaneous car chases going on back on terra not-so-firma.
The picture also goes in for Devlin’s other favorite ingredient—shameless sentiment. That can be seen not only in the character of Jake’s daughter Hannah (Talitha Bateman), who, left behind at home, weepily worries about her dad’s survival, but in a last-minute vignette about—if you can believe it—a nameless street urchin and his beloved dog, who are threatened by separation, or worse, in the impending cataclysm. Not to worry, though; this is the sort of disaster movie in which while thousands of nameless victims might perish in non-gross-out ways, anyone for whom the audience might muster the vaguest sympathy will survive, however unlikely that might seem. (It also allows for a last-minute crowd cheer of triumph to inform viewers of the elation they should be feeling.)
Acting is pretty much inconsequential in this sort of thing, but it’s the more accomplished people—like Garcia, Harris and Schiff—who suffer most. The latter two go into comic-book emotional mode to sad effect, while Garcia tries to underplay, with equally disastrous results. The others do the expected—Butler bellows and blusters, Sturgess fades into the background, and the females—Cornish and Lara in particular—are relegated to being window dressing. Despite a budget that reportedly exceeded a hundred million dollars, “Geostorm” looks tinny, with neither Roberto Schaefer’s neon-lit cinematography nor the muddled editing by Chris Lebenzon, John Refoua and Ron Rosen any more impressive than the not-so-special effects. (The picture is being shown in some venues in IMAX 3D, and even in some places in a 4DX version; it’s not worth any additional outlay.)
The release of “Geostorm” was much delayed; shot in 2014-15, it was originally scheduled to hit theatres in early 2016, but the date was repeatedly pushed back. There are also reports that Bruckheimer ordered reshoots, with scenes rewritten by an uncredited Laeta Kalogridis and directed by Danny Cannon (also uncredited). If all that is true, blame must be widely shared, but there’s certainly enough of it to go around. The problem isn’t that the movie’s release was postponed; it’s that it has finally happened.