It was the cow, man, the cow. That was what I remember best from the big, big, tornado FX movie “Twister” from 1996. I had to look up my review to remember who the stars were (Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Jamie Gertz), who the director was (Jan DeBont, who had made “Speed”) and who the writers of the awful script were (the late Michael Crichton was one of them).
But the cow? That I remembered. As you watched the monster tornado in the movie do its number, winds so strong that they could pick up a Guernsey cow and send it mooing pathetically past a stormchaser’s car window got my attention and kept it.
So now, 18 years later, we’ve got “Into the Storm,” which you could think of as “Twister Jr.”
Very, very, junior – I mean Justin Bieber junior. As hideously written as the script of “Twister” was, it was practically Robert Towne or Woody Allen compared to the godawful script for “Into the Storm.” It’s the kind of horrendous bilge that self-respecting screenwriters used to sign with pseudonyms – like, say, Brandon Blowhartz or Wonky Windust. (The very real director of “Finian’s Rainbow” on Broadway and Humphrey Bogart’s movie “The Enforcer” was named Bretaigne Windust).
But no, the screenwriter of this thing is named John Swetnam, which despite the possible references to “sweat” and “Vietnam” in a pseudonym seems to be the real name of a guy who is proud to tell movie websites about his master’s degree in film and his plans for corporate coups in the cinema racket.
There are no Guernsey cows in “Into the Storm.” The big image here is the sight of airplanes at an airport lifted off the ground by 300-mph gusts and whirled around like oak leaves.
Cool, you know? So say our 9-year-old selves within.
You know exactly what you’ll see the minute you sit down at “Into the Storm” – a bad movie with no stars whatsoever (Matt Walsh of “Veep” is the biggest name in it, though its two major actresses from TV both have three names) and pretty good special effects.
There are a couple of decent, if weird, visual jokes with Walsh in the center, but otherwise any high school senior creative writing class could have done vastly better if they had made the script for this movie a semester-long class project. You’re here for the special effects that are good enough in Steven Quale’s direction and that actually produce some edge-of-the-seat suspense a couple of times – especially as the young high school ingénues are close to drowning while trapped under a demolished building.
The tornado footage that you came for in the first place is reasonably spiffy though without anything as memorable as a flying Guernsey cow.
It was filmed in Detroit and Pontiac, Mich., and environs, but supposedly it’s all happening in and around Silverton, Okla., when a whole bunch of powerful tornadoes coalesce to make, in that final act, one 300-mph horror of nature that flattens the local high school completely, storm shelter and all.
Before it’s over, of course, you’ll see lots of trucks and cars flying through the air and buildings blown into matchsticks.
The local high school teacher and his two doofus sons are one focus in the script. Another is a bunch of quibbling stormchasers (see “Twister” for the senior version). You won’t give a fig about either story.
If, perchance, your soft, sentimental heart decides to maintain some human interest in the two trapped high school kids – the shy, dweeby, audiovisual guy and the class babe he’s been secretly infatuated with for years – you’ll note with dismay at movie’s end that the movie has less final interest in their hookup possibilities than you do.
The movie’s one vaguely creative notion was to tell as much of the story as possible as if it were filmed on various smartphones. As enterprising as that notion was on paper, it turns out, in practice, to be immensely annoying.
You’ll just have to be content to be without flying cows and with big old 747’s lifted skyward as a substitute.
If you want to see this thing that much, you can probably do it. If you don’t, well, lots of luck.
Into the storm
Starring: Matt Walsh, Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Director: Steven Quale
Running time: 89 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violent images of extreme weather.
The Lowdown: Storm chasers head for Silverton, Okla., which is about to be beset by tornadoes that come together as 300-mph winds.