Had it aired on SyFy a few weeks ago (and it certainly has the pedigree to), Into the Storm might have been called Twister 2: The Second One. It’s got the requisite cardboard characters and laughable screenplay, just like Jan DaBont’s 1996 tornado-fest, but it also has the same throw-you-through-the-back-of-the-theater sound and visual effects. And they actually make this one worth the ride.

I’m not sure we’ll ever get a smart disaster movie (apparently they’re mutually exclusive), but hey, it’s summer, and who’s not in the mood for 89 minutes of taking in Mother Nature’s sound and fury from the safety of a cushy cinema seat?

After a brief, legitimately thrilling opening scene, Into the Storm settles into its main story: tornadoes hit small Midwestern town, storm chasers chase them, normal people run. Gary (Richard Armitage) is a single dad/high school vice-principal with two sons, Trey (Nathan Kress) and Donnie (Max Deacon). Naturally, it’s Graduation Day, so the entire senior class, their families, and all the school’s administration will be sitting outside in the middle of an open field. Whatever could happen?

At the same time, a gang of chasers in tricked-out rides are barreling into town. Pete (Matt Walsh), of course, has the good-ol’ “screw humanity, we’re here for some great video!” mentality, while the voice of reason comes from his scientist colleague Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies). There are also a couple other guys who carry cameras, but they’re all fairly non-descript, and, frankly, who cares?

We’re not here to watch petulant young Donnie develop into a man as he confronts his fatal flaw while facing extraordinary obstacles. We’re here for the funnel clouds and destruction, and fortunately director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) gets it. He actually does a good job at keeping things rolling, putting us right-smack in the middle of the tornadoes. There are plenty of moments where you’ll actually get sucked in (pun intended), provided you can just let yourself go.

Alas, screenwriter John Swetnam (who oddly also wrote this weekend’s Step Up All In), does pretty much everything in his power to sabotage your ability to do just that. Subplots like Allison missing her young daughter are more distracting than anything else, and the plot holes are bigger than the eye of the twister in the big finale. At one point, we actually see spectacular footage of tornadoes swooping up jumbo jets from the local airport—cool, sure—but how does a one-stoplight town in farm country have an airport that big? Bygones. At least Quale has the decency to balance it a well-placed homage to Twister. Yes, Virginia, there is a flying cow.

In short, Into the Storm is undoubtedly (insert your favorite scatological term here), but it’s darn fun (ditto).

3.5/5 stars