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Movie review: Special effects only thing going for the thankfully brief ‘Into the Storm’

After everything we’ve witnessed as a nation over the past year, does Hollywood really expect us to be interested in a movie about a bunch of tornadoes that inexplicably, frustratingly don’t contain a single shark?

Talk about not giving the public what it wants.

Seriously, though, “Into the Storm” has its moments.

Four, maybe even five of them.

But two of those were given away in the trailers. And anything not involving a special-effects shot during the rest of its mercifully brief 89-minute running time is just awful.

The script, by John Swetnam, who also wrote this weekend’s “Step Up All In,” is borderline abysmal. The direction, by Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”), is adequate at best. And the acting ranges from bad to indifferent.

But you buy a ticket for a movie like “Into the Storm” — or, as I like to call it, “Twister 2: Let’s Twist Again, Like We Did in the Summer of ’96” — for the tornadoes. And they, at least, do not disappoint.

After a brief prologue that showcases the devastating nature of the storms, we meet teenage brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress), who are shooting video time capsules for their father, Silverton High Vice Principal Gary Fuller (Richard Armitage, “The Hobbit” trilogy).

We’re also introduced to a documentary crew, led by meteorologist Allison Stone (Sarah Wayne Callies, “The Walking Dead”) and filmmaker Pete Moore (Matt Walsh, “Veep”). Having spent three unsuccessful months on the road, they’re desperate to capture some dramatic tornado footage before their funding runs out.

After a series of amateurish shots and odd camera angles, though, you’ll be gripped by the same sort of growing terror as in the early moments of “Les Miserables” when it slowly dawned on you that the cast was never, ever going to stop singing: This is a found-footage movie.

Really?

As tired as the technique has become, it can work in those micro-budgeted horror movies populated with actors you’ve never laid eyes on. But while “Into the Storm” isn’t exactly one of those Irwin Allen, cast-of-a-thousand-stars disaster epics, the idea of “realism” doesn’t pay off when you’ve got Thorin Oakenshield, Lori Grimes and Selina Meyer’s bumbling communications director alternately chasing and fleeing Mother Nature’s wrath.

What you’re left with is a lot of dialogue fragments that prove more distracting than inclusive: “We’re rolling.” “You gettin’ this?” “Put the camera down!”

“Into the Storm” goes to great lengths to establish its found-footage conceit. On the day the tiny town of Silverton comes under siege from a storm that’s not just big, it’s “bigger than any storm that has ever been,” Trey is filming the high school’s graduation. Donnie sneaks off to help the girl of his dreams (Alycia Debnam-Carey) shoot a last-minute documentary about the abandoned paper mill outside town. The film crew is traveling in a steel-armored behemoth outfitted with 24 surveillance cameras. There’s even a couple of thrill-seekin’ good ol’ boys named Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep) who call themselves Twista Hunterz and will leave you rooting for the twistas.

So much time is spent justifying the presence of all these cameras that no one bothered to create a single character worth rooting for.

And then, after all that, “Into the Storm” eventually abandons that premise with a series of aerial shots and set-ups that couldn’t possibly have come from any of the dozens of established cameras to truly show off the power of its 2-mile-wide superstorm.

Whereas “Twister” simply tossed around a few cars, some farm equipment, a drive-in and, most memorably, a cow, “Into the Storm” goes all out. One of its marquee scenes involves a tornado of fire which, if it weren’t a Johnny Cash song, it should have been. Another features a swarm of jumbo jets and tractor-trailers being thrown every which way. (Where exactly was this, though, the Silverton International Airport?)

There’s no denying that the tornado footage is spectacular.

But, as for the rest of “Into the Storm,” don’t expect to be blown away.

Christopher Lawrence is an entertainment writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com

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