Monday, October 23, 2017

Obama's weather machine


On the plus side, once we finish cooking our green planet into a nice shade of brown, there won't be anybody left to make movies like Geostorm.

Directed by Dean Devlin
Written by Paul Guyot and Dean Devlin
With Gerard Butler (Jake Lawson), Jim Sturgess (Max Lawson), Abbie Cornish (Agent Sarah Wilson), Ed Harris (Sec. State Leonard Dekkom), Andy Garcia (President Andrew Palma), Alexandra Maria Lara (Cmdr. Ute Fassbinder), Zazie Beetz (Dana), and Talitha Bateman (Hannah Lawson)

Spoiler alert: moderate

First of all, I want to make it clear that I don't have a bad attitude about this kind of thing—which, frankly, puts me against the current, because a lot of people very obviously have a bad attitude about this kind of thing, and wear it like a badge of honor, as if hating 2012 got a man closer to God.  No, I like disaster cinema.  I more-or-less like our latterday Roland Emmerich-style disaster cinema, too, despite its spotty track record.  I even like, or thought I liked, Dean Devlin himself, who—after all—was Emmerich's most important collaborator, back when Emmerich was at the top of his game.  (Then again, this really only amounts to just two movies, Stargate and Independence Day; whereas Devlin was on board for Godzilla and Independence Day: Resurgence.)  Nevertheless, I had enough faith in Devlin's first flight as a director.  He'd earned his wings.  And besides, those trailers looked rad.  Bring on the Geostorm, said I.

Then its release date drew nearer.  I heard about the reshoots.  I found out that the movie was actually finished, the first time, three years ago.  I noted, with growing concern, that Geostorm was not being screened for critics—though this was easy to dismiss.  Critics hate these stupid things anyway.  Why should they bother?  But then it turned out that they weren't even offering Thursday night showings to the regular public, in advance of its official Friday release—a notable rarity for any would-be blockbuster like this one—presumably to keep the lid on those Rotten Tomatoes write-ups just a little while longer, and perhaps even to silence word-of-mouth amongst real, paying audiences.  That's when I started to get nervous.

But I never expected it to be like this.

Geostorm is, basically, the worst.  It's hard, anyway, to imagine a much worse disaster movie, which—for the record—Geostorm barely even is.  If absolutely nothing else, it's one abominable waste of a fun premise: in the future (2019, that is, the same year as Blade Runner, except Geostorm wasn't written in 1981), massive climate change has necessitated the construction of a vast network of weather control satellites above the Earth, capable of disrupting hurricanes and tornadoes before they start, and even capable of regulating the temperature of Earth's most vulnerable regions.  Dubbed "Dutch Boy"—because, seriously, no it wasn't, and get real—the network was naturally an international effort, though predominantly a Chinese and an American one.  This is why it makes perfect sense that the U.S. has sole, uncontested command over the thing, and we barely see a single Chinese person in the whole movie, even when, somewhat later on, a curiously-underpopulated version of Hong Kong blows up.

But, again: did "The Nimbus Array" just sound too cool, Dean?  (It's a fun exercise, dear reader: see how many better names you can come up with for a network of weather control satellites!  Ex.: "Project Zeus."  2-0, your move.)

The man in charge of this undertaking was a certain Jake Lawson, nominally a genius.  We meet Jake on the day of his dismissal, as he most-ingeniously antagonizes a senator and, of course, gets himself replaced by his brother, Max, a State Department goon.  So far, it's not remotely clear what this sibling rivalry is doing in a movie that really should've already gotten to the part where a weather machine's been hijacked and used to wipe out a continent.  Regrettably, it will not become the slightest bit more clear, despite Devlin and co-screenwriter Paul Guyot's most sincere desire to focus upon it at great length.

Well, unfortunately, somebody forgot to make America great again, I guess; five years later the president is preparing to hand over control of Mjolnir to an international panel.  But just weeks before the keys to Skywatch can be delivered, malfunctions start to crop up—a flash freeze in Afghanistan, a heat wave in Hong Kong that pops a few gas mains—and it becomes increasingly apparent that these aren't bugs in the system.  The Firmament's been hacked, and deliberately turned against the people of Earth.  And it becomes pretty certain that it's an inside job, too—a conspiracy against humankind that may go all the way to the top.

Or, it may have, if Devlin didn't blunder his dumb ass into revealing the party affiliation of the president.  (He's a Democrat, though it wouldn't matter: nobody was going to be making a political statement that strident with this much of somebody else's money.)  This narrows our suspect list down to just the one unaccountably famous and good actor in a small role; obviously, Geostorm has the gall to treat it as a reveal.  (I'll follow Devlin's lead here: if I don't literally name him, I haven't spoiled it.)  This is still probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, since it still counts as a political statement—inasmuch as the MAGA is, indeed, strong with this one, and we probably just don't get to see the part where he makes fun of Puerto Rico's name while people he doesn't consider Americans die.

As for the rest of it, that's the most absurdly Goddamn boring thing you'll see in a movie theater all year.  And it swallows everything: as the Aeromancer goes out of control, Max is compelled to seek out his estranged brother and convince him to go back into space to fix whatever it is that's gone wrong, and they hate and mistrust each other at the lowest possible level of human drama.  It turns out that this is what Geostorm is actually about—much moreso than the things we were promised, namely superstorms and Bondian supervillainy—and it is death.  Any joy you might find yourself accidentally extracting from the sight of Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess whining at each other in slow-motion comes only from laughing at the way each man tries to bury his (noticeably different) British accent.  Both are unsuccessful—Butler, hypnotically so—and one assumes one of Geostorm's reshot scenes involves the film's admission that both are technically immigrants.  It probably pays to remind the reader that this is a movie about a weather machine built by an international consortium—in other words, there was never any special reason that they had to be Americans in the first place.

Somewhere in the midst of this, action, of a sort, does occur: Jake gets shot up to the ISS-5, Stormbreaker's control hub, where he engages in space shenanigans and generally accomplishes very little other than "amusingly" condescending to the ISS' actual commander, played by Alexandra Maria Lara, who was evidently directed to spend every scene leering bug-eyed at Butler with a look that splits the difference, quite perfectly, between "rape-by-gaze" and "the stare of a hungry praying mantis"; meanwhile, back on terra firma, Max and his could-be would-be fiancee, Secret Service Agent Sarah Wilson, follow up on their leads, trade stultifying dialogue even for a 21st century disaster movie, and ultimately wind up kidnapping the president.  (Sarah is played by Abbie Cornish.  This means we get three Commonwealth actors in major roles pretending to be Americans, and not one capable of actually doing so, to the extent that half the lines in the movie sound like they're being forced through a mouthful of cottonballs.)  Still: kidnapping the president.  That at least sounds like it ought to be fun.

It's not.  It cannot be stressed enough just how little of a disaster movie, or any kind of movie, Geostorm is.  If one were really trying to classify it by genre, and went in without any preconceptions, "disaster movie" probably wouldn't rank fourth, if it even occurred to you at all.  Genre-mixing doesn't always work, but it's rarely failed to work this much.  Every element of the narrative strains at every other one and cancels it out—and thus Geostorm wants to be Gravity, Three Days of the Condor, The Spy Who Loved Me, and a family drama of such low impact and inherent interest I can't actually think of a good movie to compare it to, even negatively.  But it is, in every instance, the shittiest version of those things.

And while I'd never be the asshole who touts "science!" in the face of a disaster movie, I'll just point out that if you're worried about satellites (any satellites), wait half an hour, and you won't have to worry about them ever again once Babylon 5 here blows up.

But maybe it'll get around to being 2012, if it has the time.  For now, enjoy Geostorm's disaster mini-modules, because sometimes Devlin does half-remember what the draw of his movie was supposed to be.  Pity even these aren't any good.  Outside of a few moments (literally single shots!) that have a certain impact—a nameless Arab on camelback in Dubai, looking up to see the tidal wave above him; a flock of frozen pigeons, followed precipitously by a frozen jet airliner—Geostorm is some of the lamest, tamest disaster cinema we've seen in years.  Not every disaster movie has to kill a half-dozen slasher flicks' worth of named characters.  But oughtn't there be some point of identification with these victims?  Some hook to get us invested in their fate as the CGI crashes down upon them?  Even porn has faces.

Instead, we get this smattering of awful little setpieces.  They're almost completely detached from the story, of course, for Geostorm may be the most structurally-fucked piece of disaster cinema ever made.  Devlin proves a student of his old friend Emmerich, just not a good one—sure, Emmerich, the God Who Punishes With Ironic and Hilarious Megadeath, is kind of suspect anyway.  Certainly, his inability to take his shit seriously has always been the biggest handicap to his recognized talent for marshaling raw spectacle.  But at least when he snuffs out a life, you know why.  Emmerich is not just.  But he is fair.

Devlin's storytelling, however—even graded on an Emmerichian curve!—is simply grotesque in its incompetence: take that Hong Kong sequence, which features a cypher Chinese official, created to die, rolling out of the disaster zone in his smartcar.  Devlin, the overheated environmentalist, makes sure that we realize how fucking slow his wee clown car is—so slow that the gas-guzzling monster Humvee behind him honks and honks, trying to get around, up until a Goddamn building falls on it.  Take that, planetkiller!  Ha ha!  Also, take that, the other hundred, thousand, however many other people who didn't make it out of Hong Kong, because it turns out electric cars are actually... awful?  What was your point again, Dean?

Anyway, at least that's only offensive in its sloppiness: we'll eventually reach a point where Devlin causes physical pain, when a vehicle chase is supplemented by a Skyforge-driven lightning storm of jovian proportions, and that's where you really weep bitter tears—partly because you're having a seizure, but also because you wonder what a good director and an engaged cinematographer might have made of this scenario, rather than what we actually get, which is, of course, Devlin and DP Roberto Schaefer indifferently flashing strobe lights at cars.

Even the baseline scene is terrible: twisters that look worse than the twisters in Twister; buildings that look less like buildings than the models in a midcentury Toho film; frozen tidal waves that look more pixelated than the ones from an x-treme 90s soda commercial.  Everything is flat, and barely interacts with anything else, lacking anything close to the breadth and depth of Emmerich's staging in ID4 or 2012.  It's less a movie than a screensaver.

And yet you still feel ripped off, by the pure paucity of Devlin's shitty CGI destruction.  It's perverse!  This is a movie that throws up a countdown timer on the screen, about two-thirds of the way through its 109-minute runtime, geostorm in 1 hour, 30 minutes, which is indeed about how long it takes for anything to happen.  That's meta.  That's clever.  But it ain't funny.  And here's one big spoiler for you: it doesn't actually happen.  There is no geostorm in Geostorm.  It reminds me of that old joke.  You know the one.  "The weather's terrible!"  Yeah, and such small portions.

Score:  1/10
Better names for a weather machine than "Dutch Boy": 6

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