"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind," sang Bob Dylan in the early 1960s. Fifty years later, the question is, Why would anyone want to make a new version of Twister?
As someone who once stood, fascinated, in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, watching a storm a couple of blocks away before a woman said, "Hey, that's a twister!," I can certainly testify to the endless appeal of giant freaking storms. (I took shelter in the parking garage of the building where I worked, and watched with other eyewitnesses as the tornado blew through downtown.)
If you, too, are endlessly fascinated by tornadoes -- and especially if you don't remember the 1996 blockbuster movie, written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin, and directed by Jan de Bont -- then you are probably the ideal audience for Into the Storm, which also takes place on a single momentous day and follows a group of stormchasers. Beyond that similar premise, it must be admitted that Into the Storm heads off on its own, sober-minded mission.
The stormchasing team is led by Pete, played by Matt Walsh, best known to me from the HBO political comedy Veep. Pete is a dead-serious, intense leader who drives an armored military vehicle that looks more suitable for combat than chasing storms. But that's because his intention is to chase down a twister, park, and then lock his vehicle down into the ground so he can capture unique tornado footage. (Presumably, he will then sell the footage and make a mint.)
The scientific weather specialist on Pete's team is Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies, from TV's The Walking Dead), a single mother who mans a van filled with computers and TV screens, and tells the team where to go. The team is completed by two young friends, the slightly more experienced Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta, who was quite good in the indie film Brotherhood) and a newbie named Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter).
While the professionals chase storms, the innocent small-town citizens of Silverton are viciously attacked by a series of tornadoes, most notably the students at the local high school. The school's vice principal, Gary (Richard Armitage, better known as Thorin in The Hobbit movies), is a single parent with two teenage sons. The older has gone off-campus with a comely schoolmate for a video project, while the younger accompanies his father as they search for his sibling.
The dramatic storyline flows in a straight path, with no unexpected detours, and it's only when the wind begins to blow -- suddenly and without warning -- that the tempo notably picks up. The movie is presented in the now commonplace found-footage style, which makes sense for the storm footage and no sense at all for the balance of the running time.
Director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) and writer John Swetnam (Step Up All In) are no doubt honorable workers, but the non-storm footage is perfunctory, at best, and far too many contrived situations keep popping up in an attempt to sustain tension after the tornadoes pass. On the plus side, Brian Pearson's cinematography is not nearly as nauseating as I was afraid it might be; the found-footage angle is honored with multiple shaky-cam shots, but there's enough stable-shot footage to balance that out, in the end.
What about the storms? Well, they look properly storm-y, as fictional storms go, and certainly ramped up my attention for as long as they lasted. Perhaps in an effort to top Twister, multiple cyclones become the order of the day, and the destruction depicted encompasses locations that are never mentioned by any of the characters.
That sums up the tone and intentions of the modestly-entertaining Into the Storm: the tornadoes are the thing, and, unlike Twister, the smartest people run away from them, not towards them.
The film opens wide in theaters across the U.S. and Canada on Friday, August 8. Visit the official site for more information.