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Into the Storm


Let's be honest: They should've just called the thing Twisters. Because that's pretty much what this is — a rehash of the 1996 Bill Paxton-Helen Hunt effects-fest with fewer flying cows and more tornadoes. Way more.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of the most enduring movies are about bad weather. I'm a total sucker for pictures like Twister, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Take Shelter and The Perfect Storm.

It's been almost 20 years since Philip Seymour Hoffman helped introduce audiences to the culture of storm chasing in Twister. Since then, CGI has gotten better, and global warming has gotten worse. So it probably was as good a time as any for Into the Storm.

Directed by Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) and scripted by John Swetnam, the film offers yet another example of the found-footage gimmick adding nothing to a movie besides forced situations in which someone has to be recording something so there can even be a movie. Can we all agree the whole found-footage thing is over? Thank you.

The story concerns the fateful intersection of two groups. The first is a team of storm trackers shooting a documentary about tornadoes. It's led by the mismatched pair of Pete (Matt Walsh from HBO's "Veep"), a guy who operates "on instinct"; and Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies from AMC's "The Walking Dead"), a meteorologist who prefers to rely on data and Dopplers.

When a freakishly strong front approaches a midwestern county, the pair bickers like an old married couple about where it's likely to make landfall. She wins, if you can call finding yourself in the middle of the deadliest weather pattern ever "winning."

The other group consists of no-fun father Gary (Richard Armitage from the Hobbit movies) and his two resentful sons. When the F5 shit hits the fan, one kid winds up trapped in a building reduced to rubble and rapidly filling with water, and the old man races the clock to save him à la Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow.

The filmmakers squeeze in perfunctory allusions to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. But they get the obligatory Look what man's done to the planet! stuff out of the way fast so they can devote as much of the film's 89-minute running time as possible to its real message: Wow, state-of-the-art funnel clouds wreaking state-of-the-art havoc look pretty freaking cool!

The dialogue may be laughable (I lost count of how many times somebody yelled, "We've got to get out of here!"), but, as meteorological monsters go, the movie's twisters are serious fun. As the picture progresses, they increase both in size and in all-out weirdness.

The third act is a natural-disaster jackpot that pays off with everything from a giant storm cell moving spiderlike through town on limblike vortices, to a gasoline-fueled column of swirling fire swallowing everything (and everyone) in its path, to a sequence at an airport where jumbo jets are lifted and hurled by 300-mph winds like paper planes.

As cinema, Into the Storm has minimal redeeming value. Its characters are generic, the direction is undistinguished and the acting is not about to earn anyone an invitation from James Lipton.

The tornadoes, by contrast, have star power to match their wind power. They are the Sir Laurence Olivier of twisters. The Marlon Brando of bad weather. The Errol Flynn of funnel clouds. The Elizabeth Taylor of typhoons. The Leo DiCaprio of inclement conditions.

This is a storm that's far from perfect. But adjust your expectations sufficiently and you just may have an experience that doesn't blow.