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'Into the Storm' spent all its money on effects, not emotions

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Warner Bros.
(From left) Richard Armitage, Nathan Kress and Max Deacon in the action thriller 'Into the Storm.'
Warner Bros.
(From left) Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Nathan Kress and Sarah Wayne Callies star in the action thriller 'Into the Storm.'
Warner Bros.
Sarah Wayne Callies stars in the action thriller 'Into the Storm.'

“Into the Storm” is as close to a real tornado as most of us would ever want to get. Its effects are so spectacular that it makes “Twister” look like “The Wizard of Oz.” You wonder, as immersive as all those objects flying off the screen are, why they didn't film it in 3D. Secretly, you're grateful they didn't.

But as impressive as the effects can be, as effective as the blend of TV-news-helicopter POV shots, security-camera footage, cellphone video and storm-chaser images mimicked here turn out, the human stories are given short shrift in this “spend our budget on effects” action picture.

Late in the season, “Tornado Alley” storm chaser Pete (Matt Walsh) hasn't scored the money shot. He's a freelancer with the backing to get the image nobody else has — the “eye” of the tornado, shots from inside the vortex. He's got a hired-gun meteorologist, Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies); Titus, a veritable tank of a chase vehicle; some young videographers; and backers about to pull the plug on this venture if he doesn't produce.

That last big system whipping across Oklahoma is their chance. Everybody else is headed toward one town, but Allison insists the real action will be in Silverton.

It's graduation day at Silverton High, and widowed Vice Principal Gary (Richard Armitage) is hoping they can hold the ceremony outdoors and that his rebellious sons — Donnie and Trey (Max Deacon, Nathan Kress) — will video it, along with scores of testimonials for a video time capsule.

The twister hits, and we're sucked into that school with it. But the realism of this gripping school-under-assault scene isn't the first grabber moment. That comes in the opening credits — teens caught in a car, obsessed with cellphone recording the tornado that swooped down on them the previous night.

If “Into the Storm” has a theme, it's that. We've become a nation of gawkers, cultists forever holding our phones up to whatever dangerous, tragic or comic disaster is unfolding in front of us.

There's a reason movies are cast with movie stars, and this film makes you appreciate that — with performances that lack urgency, panic or even awe. Movie stars have not just acting chops and screen presence, but that ineffable spark that creates instant empathy.

Director Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”) never gives his cast of unknowns the chance to achieve that empathy except late in the picture. That's also, belatedly, when a ticking clock kicks in and we start to fear for characters' lives.

Roger Moore reviews movies for McClatchy News Service.

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