I generally enjoy disaster films, no matter how dumb or exploitive they are, but they seem to be getting worse as the years go by. At least the 1970s versions were all-star filled blockbusters. Now all it takes is the germ of an idea, a mid-range star or two and a boatload of CGI. Pretty soon they’ll all be down to the level of the Sharknado movies — and that is pretty darn low.
Dean Devlin’s film is not short of ideas. After extreme weather batters the world, its governments team up to create a satellite system that can control weather events, operated by an International Space Station crew. As the U.S. prepares to hand off control of this system to a world organization, the system undergoes malfunctions which lead to deadly weather events below. Soon it becomes clear that the system is under attack, and the two brothers who designed it are assigned to fix it before it unleashes global havoc.
Devlin formerly partnered with Roland Emmerich, who knew how to direct such material for maximum impact and suspense. First-time helmer Devlin clearly does not. When the weather goes haywire he focuses on some innocent bystander under siege, but ruins the suspense by cutting back and forth to them repeatedly as they try to outrun nature’s wrath. He doesn’t seem to realize that viewers have little connection to random people in peril, and that cutting back and forth from falling frozen airplanes and raging fire tornadoes lessens their fear factors. Meanwhile, unlikely brothers Jake (Gerard Butler) and Matt Lawson (Jim Sturgess) try to determine the cause of the malfunctions in space and in the world of politics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the renegade behind the mayhem is easy to spot, except that the characters evidently haven’t seen enough movies to spot him.
I’m normally in favor of telling the human stories as they cope with disaster; I think Airport and The Poseidon Adventure do this marvelously well. Heck, even Meteor has interesting characters. But Geostorm routinely undercuts its frightening premise with bland “human interest,” failing to understand that we’ve come to see large-scale disaster. Cutting to a few shots of tsunamis and freezing cold wind on a beach, or ridiculous-looking tornado bunches racing toward a city just doesn’t cut it. While the premise is promising, the film itself is lackluster at best, stupid at worst, and pallid most of the time. ☆ 1/2. 14 November 2017.