Movie Review

Tornadoes not meant to be laughing matter

by Jonathan Hickman, Special to the Times-Herald

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In case you didn't know, tornados can be fun. Or, at least, that's one of the key takeaways from “Into the Storm,” this weekend's found footage, hybrid thriller doing battle again mutant ninja turtles starting today. And the “fun” is both what's good about the film and what's really wrong with it.

“Into the Storm” is an undeniably entertaining disaster film. Spoiler alert: Mother Nature did it, and proves to be one vicious nemesis. The movie takes place during high school graduation day. An assistant principal (played by “The Hobbit’s” Richard Armitage) and his two teenaged sons are preparing for the ceremony by conducting video taped interviews as part of a time capsule project. Early on, we meet the elder son, Donnie (Max Deacon), who talks directly to the camera in his room. An iMac can be seen in the background running the popular editing software Final Cut Pro X. It is the same software I use, so, for tech geeks, “Into the Storm” will be appealing as the filming takes center stage throughout.

As the graduation plans proceed, a team of storm chasers follow radar looking for the big one – a huge tornado that they can film for television. Through the guise of a promotional video, we meet the team and their gear, which in addition to great cameras (including the Alexa Cinema Camera), features a tank-like vehicle dubbed “Titan” that can anchor itself and sustain winds of up to 170 mph. The hope is to place the Titan in the path of a twister and capture footage from the eye of the tornado.

The leader of the chasers is Pete (Matt Walsh), a mercenary of sorts willing to risk his life and the lives of his team to get the shot. His meteorologist is Allison (“Walking Dead” alum Sarah Wayne Callies) on her maiden season as a chaser. The rest of the team are youngsters looking for a good payoff should they capture the big one.

Of course, the big one hits and wrecks everything in its path. And the cameras, of all kinds, roll. The film uses various visual scopes to tell the often harrowing story. In one scene a teen couple is trapped in a hole with water pouring in, reminiscent of that great scene in the Paul Newman/Henry Fonda flick “Sometimes a Great Notion.”

But as the teens and the storm chasers flee from twister to twister (and there are plenty of them), another group of storm hunters mill about – call them rednecks. They are armed with a GoPro action cam and an old Flip Video camera and recklessly chase the storm. These wannabes are funny, but they undercut the serious tone of the terrifying events. And an end credit denouement punches the comic relief home. Given the real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines narrative, the choice to make light of tornados even to the point of approaching parody might make some viewers uncomfortable.

If you are able to reconcile the potentially offensive tone of the side stories, you'll probably really enjoy “Into the Storm.” The effects are pretty good, and they ought to be. Director Steven Quale worked with James Cameron on “Avatar” and “Titanic.” Buildings are destroyed, vehicles, even jumbo jets, are spun into the air and plummeted to the ground in stunning fashion. It is all a real rush that might have you leaning forward on the edge of your seat. Describing the film as a thrilling joy ride is completely accurate but will none-the-less not sit well with families in Joplin, Missouri, for example, where 162 souls were lost in 2011. And that's really what's wrong with the film: tornadoes aren't supposed to be a laughing matter.



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