"I've never seen anything like this!" a storm chaser says while witnessing a multi-funnel tornado event in the disaster drama "Into the Storm."
Apparently, he's the only professional storm chaser in the nation who hasn't seen "Twister," the vicariously fun 1996 thriller in which Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton outrun funnel clouds while avoiding a trillion pieces of glass, wood and other debris shooting around them at sonic speeds.
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"Into the Storm"★ ½
Starring: Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies, Nathan Kress, Richard Armitage, Max Deacon
Directed by: Steve Quale
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual references, language. 89 minutes
In that regard, "Into the Storm" makes for a more realistic natural disaster movie, because the obsessed lead storm chaser, Pete (Hinsdale South High School graduate Matt Walsh), actually gets hit with a chunk of flying debris.
Instead of the debris ripping through him like a 35.7 magnum caliber bullet, it merely bounces off Pete's stomach.
"Into the Storm" offers us enticing trailers and TV commercials showing the most terrifying parts of this unfairweather survival tale.
What they don't reveal is the movie's strained and unsustainable use of the "found-footage" gimmick where the entire story is told through images collected from smartphones, video recorders, security cameras and mysterious recording devices apparently floating around in the air, conveniently capturing establishing shots and views from inside a funnel cloud.
Pete works as a professional storm chaser. He makes storm docs. He's surly. He's upset that he and his team have missed the big storm that, in the movie's gratuitous opening scene, killed four shrieking Oklahoma teenagers in a car.
His right-hand assistant Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), a super educated storm tracker, seems more concerned about being away from her little daughter Gracie than she is about a new line of super tornadoes forming across five states.
"There's three!" shouts a crew member so scared that he can't remember to match plural verbs with plural nouns. "There's four! They're everywhere!"
Over at Silverton High School, administrators who've never heard of "safety liability" disregard warnings and go forward with outdoor graduation ceremonies, only to be rudely interrupted by torrential rain and winds that rip the school roof away and suck a few extras into the vortex.
Among the students are brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), sons of a tersely humorless administrator and bitter widower named Gary (Richard Armitage).
Dad always liked Trey better, so black sheep Donnie skips graduation to hang out with his crush Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Carey) at the old abandoned paper mill, which, as cliche-loving screenwriter John Swetnam determines, rests in the path of the oncoming funnels of destruction.
Where "Twister" swept us along on clever "Wizard of Oz" references with filmmakers who didn't take its absurd bad weather tale too seriously, "Into the Storm" feels like an old formula Irwin Allen made-for-TV disaster film (remember "Fire"?) with superior visual and sound effects.
"Into the Storm" does offer some humor with a Beavis-and-Butt-Head team of Donk and Reevis (Kyle Davis and John Reep), stoners who've seen so many "Jack-Ass" movies that they merrily head into the danger zone with smartphones in hand.
The movie's figurative high point happens when Pete and his reinforced, super weatherproof utility vehicle (resembling a Hummer/military tank mash-up) get sucked into the eye of the tornado and carried high into the heavens.
A serene moment of beauty at the very top precedes the inevitable plunge to Earth. Pete's storm chase screams out for a clever homage to Slim Pickens' effusive ride on the atomic bomb at the end of "Dr. Strangelove."
But no. "Into the Storm" blows it.