Let’s get this out of the way up front. It’s no “Twister,” which is not just the “Citizen Kane” of tornado movies, but a loveably cheesy thrill ride of a film that holds up very well even though its then-cutting edge special effects (that flying cow!) are no longer as surprising. But “Into the Storm” is an efficient little thrill ride of its own, tapping into fears about the ramped-up rage of post climate change storms.
A swift 90 minutes gives them 20 minutes to introduce the characters, their capabilities and vulnerabilities, 50 minutes of buildup, and 40 minutes of action.
There’s a brief prologue letting us know how deadly a tornado can be. And then the characters are sketched in quickly with just enough of a story to help us tell them apart and give them some motivations and lessons to learn.
The hometown characters: Gary (Richard Armitage), a single father who is the assistant principal in an Oklahoma high school. His two sons, the shy Donnie (Max Deacon), and Trey (Nathan Kress of “iCarly”), are supposed to be at school to made a video of the graduation ceremony. But Donnie gets the chance to help out the girl he has a crush on, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey), by helping her get some video footage at an abandoned factory.
The storm chasers: Pete (“Veep’s” Matt Walsh), in a specially equipped tank outfitted with two dozen cameras and grappling claws, is about to lose his funding if he cannot provide storm footage. In a van, a meteorologist named Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) checks her monitors and worries about the five year old daughter she has left with her parents. There are some assistants and camera operators on board as well. We don’t need to get to know them too well. We do get to see a “promotional video” about the vehicle so we can get a sense of its special features, including a turret set up to capture “a sight nobody but God has witnessed, the eye of the tornado.”
Oh, and there’s also a pair of idiots who like to think up dumb stunts and post them on YouTube.
There’s not a lot of creativity in the characters. There is even less in the dialog, which relies heavily on disaster-movie standards. “What used to be a once in a lifetime storm happens about once a year now,” an expert explains. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Followed by, “This is the biggest tornado I’ve ever seen.” But what we’re here for is the stunts and special effects, and those are just fine, from the small details like a little girl’s pink bicycle impaled on the side of a truck to a wind tunnel of fire and an entire car lot of vehicles tossed up into the air like ping pong balls in a juggling act. Our most fundamental notions of physics are continually upended. The pull of gravity is no match for the fury of the storm. And that, after all, is what we came to see.
Parents should know that this film includes very intense and sometimes graphic and disturbing scenes of massive storm, with extended damage and constant peril, characters injured and killed, and some strong language and crude references.
Family discussion: Which character changed the the most over the course of the movie and why? What would you say if you thought they would be your last words?
If you like this, try: “Twister” and the documentary “Storm Chasing The Year of the EF-5: an Epic Journey Through Tornado Alley”