Friday, August 8, 2014

Nothing Left But The Skin On Their Backs (Almost)

Nathan Kress as Trey, Richard Armitage as Gary and Sarah Wayne Callies as Allison in Steven Quale's adventure drama "Into The Storm".
Warner Brothers

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, August 8, 2014

Feel that breeze?  That gust?  That 300mph gale force wind ripping at your back?  Welcome to Silverton, a Midwestern U.S. town whose folks are seen on camera in a time capsule documentary by Donnie (Max Deacon).  He and younger brother Trey (Nathan Kress) are this sleepy town's high school video archivists.  Where will they and other subjects be in 25 years, they ask?  Some expect glory.  Others in "Into The Storm", an in-your-face disaster film opening today, won't be the same.

The film has three levels of video documentation: Donnie and Trey's aspiring level, a You Tube-duo's fame-seeking kind, and a storm-chasing team's research kind.  Each of these dovetails and overlaps, curiously in many cases, and, in others, in an attempt to show layers of perspective.  In doing this director Steven Quale helms two different movies: one about cameras and one about the voyeurism of destruction, captured up close -- far too close. 

"Into The Storm" represents the perfect 21st century ogle festival, where everything is seen and nothing is felt even in genuinely gripping episodes of gargantuan objects hurtling at us with lightning speed and force.  Thank goodness Mr. Quale's film isn't in 3-D, for its kinetic cameras and objects would have guaranteed motion sickness.

Everything is optical as Donnie seizes a moment to ask Silverton's "girl-next-door" out, as Donnie's dad Gary (Richard Armitage), a widower and the high school assistant principal, is too busy to talk to his elder son, and Pete (Matt Walsh), an ornery and lonely veteran stormtracker, wants to capture the "big one" on tape for posterity after a long spell of coming up empty, something he blames on Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a stormtracker and meteorology scientist with a little less experience than Pete.  Allison, a single mother, reassures her young daughter that she will return from the storm.  One of Pete's jittery cameramen will document the storms, which multiply by the minute, right on cue. 

For a film that delivers what its title spells out, "Into The Storm" has flat characters, a dull atmosphere and an anti-climactic mood lurking over it.  The film's visual effects are underwhelming.  "Into The Storm" jaded me.  I've seen disaster and peril before, bigger and better in recent years.  ("Twister", "The Perfect Storm", "The Day After Tomorrow", among others.)  Simply put, "Into The Storm" is a dry, forgettable experience.

Still, Mr. Quale's film is admirable in one sense -- confidence flows in its one-dimensional characters.  So does conviction that's foolhardy and fearless.  And it's not an entirely predictable film.  That said, you'd think a town whose police and fire/rescue team are absent would suffer inordinately but the townsfolk in "Into The Storm" are independents who take tornadoes (and life) in stride.  Silverton High School won't let its graduation ceremony be spoiled by rain, darn it!  The nation's president is also curiously M.IA.  ("Hurricane Katrina", anyone?)  Even TV news journalists and experts aren't descending upon Silverton to brave the vicious winds that Al Roker and many others did for the real-life Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

Economical at 90 minutes despite its spectacular bouts of destruction, "Into The Storm" represents today's instant voyeur culture at its zenith.  Cameras spin in every possible place a camera can be placed.  You want heaven's perspective?  You've got it.  You want an airplane flailing and twirling in the sky like a spinning top?  Check *this* out.  These angles of destruction substitute for an absence of invention.  You see damage over and over.  After a while you vanish into the film's drab, gray nothingness.  I became desensitized.  The more I saw, the less I felt.  The less I felt, the more I tired of "Into The Storm".

After your town is, God forbid, leveled, you try picking up the pieces.  This post-tornado reality is obvious, but in the context of "Into The Storm" I wondered, "why bother with all the devastation to deliver such a simple message?"  Is it me or couldn't screenwriter John Swetnam have done better here?  Surely Silverton's residents (and the film's audience) already know the value of human courage and goodness?  Every now and then, I guess, a reminder is necessary.  The worst storms bring out the best and the not-so brightest human bulbs.

Also with: Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter, Scott Lawrence, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep. 

"Into The Storm" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references.  The film's running time is one hour and 29 minutes.

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