In a world of big-budget blockbuster cinema lies the laziest, easiest, trashiest genre: the disaster movie. They are formulaic by-the-numbers experiences, held together with the most thread bare of plots until they inevitably fall apart both creatively and literally. That’s not to say I dislike disaster movies. Far from it. There are some damn entertaining disaster movies out there. Especially in the pre-George Lucas/”Star Wars”/industrial light and magic era, when cities had to be destroyed using miniatures and models; when expert craftsmen had to build scale-model cities and find new and exciting ways to blow them to smithereens.
The modern disaster film is a fish-in-a-barrell scenario: Easier than a Kardashian at the NBA All-Star game. The advent of computer-generated set pieces and special effects has allowed Hollywood to eviscerate cities with a few thousand mouse clicks. Watching Los Angeles reduced to rubble by a volcano can be staged in a virtual world and top-talent actors filmed on a greenscreen. No one would ever accuse disaster movies of being art. Then again, “Titanic,” the second highest grossing movie of all time, is technically a disaster movie. So, maybe in the hands of the right director, a disaster movie can become something more than the sum of its debris.
“Geostorm” is not that movie.
It resides on the other end of the quality spectrum; the trashy side, with other ridiculous movies like “San Andreas,” “Armageddon” and “2012.” There is no attempt here at being taken seriously. This is grade-D trash designed to be as entertaining as possible, while requiring audiences to use the fewest number of brain cells to connect barely-there plot points until the final credits roll.
This particular piece of slightly entertaining hot garbage is directed by Dean Devlin, who helped produce better, more successful disaster epics like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” For the better part of two decades he and his former partner, Roland Emmerich, have cornered on the terrible, financially successful disaster movie. No doubt readers have groaned their way through such memorable trash as 1998’s “Godzilla” or 2016’s biggest steaming pile “Independence Day: Resurgence.” This is not someone who is bothered by words like “quality.”
“Geostorm” brings us to the near future, where the world is being hammered by stronger meteorological events that threaten mankind. In order to control these superstorms from destroying life as we know it, the world’s smartest scientists come together and develop a series of satellites that can control weather and minimize potential threat to planet Earth. Everything is going fine until a dire conspiracy unfolds involving a sinister group taking control of the weather-controlling satellite network and begins to wreak havoc.
Only one man can stop this: Gerard Butler. In the last decade, he’s gone from curb stomping Persians in “300” to becoming the laziest action star on the planet. In the world of “Geostorm,” he’s the world’s smartest engineer and helped create “Dutch Boy,” the poorly named satellite network that staves off Earth’s destruction with enough pseudo-science to make Neil deGrasse Tyson’s head explode. He heads into space at the behest of his straight-laced, politically savvy brother, who super-conveniently is in charge of the program. While super-engineer Gerard Butler tries to solve the mystery in space, his brother (Jim Sturgess) remains on the ground navigating the murky world of American politics.
My biggest problem with “Geostorm” was the amount of time characters spent staring at screens, talking. This might be the most expository movie in the history of modern cinema. Nothing is left to the imagination. Every plot point is conveniently discussed ad nauseum. I spent much of the film rooting for the geostorm to wipe out these thinly written excuses for characters, but there’s a depressing lack of destruction in this disaster movie. Sure, there are a few scenes of a city being blown up, but the movie lacks the kind of blatant hedonistic damage that makes a movie like “Geostorm” ultimately enjoyable. There are never those prolonged moments of tension from surviving the hellish landscapes and inhuman conditions.
As far as disaster movies go, “Geostorm” is tame. While the sci-fi premise is remotely interesting, the execution of the plot is painfully rendered. And for my money, seeing Gerard Butler’s name on the poster is more of a warning than an advertisement. “Geostorm” is a hot mess that can’t even exploit the most fun elements of this genre.