Putting the “mental” in “environmental,” the not-screened-for-critics “Geostorm” is less a scare picture about ignoring climate change than a cautionary flop about trying to do too much in conjuring a perfect storm of genres: end-of-the-world porn, save-the-world triumphalism, space adventure, political thriller, family drama, and workplace romance.
Maybe the little Indian boy’s dog doesn’t die when the big bad tornados threaten all of Mumbai — despite our general acceptance of millions of humans biting the dust in these things — but disaster movies might have just flatlined with director and co-writer Dean Devlin’s chaotically stupid bid to emulate his old partner, catastrophe peddler Roland Emmerich. “Everyone was warned, but no one listened,” an unseen young girl’s voice intones over the opening prologue. Box office totals for this one will likely prove otherwise.
That girl-narrated backstory at the beginning sounds like it would have made a more interesting piece of thorny geopolitical sci-fi than the CGI glop we get instead: How do 18 countries, led by the U.S. and China, come together to battle horrible climate change effects by installing a galactic safety net of thousands of satellites with the ability to balance extreme weather conditions around the world? No matter — they all did! Yay!
And now, with the world safe, Gerard Butler’s planet hero Jake Larson, arrogant architect of what’s been called the Dutch Boy system, is disrespecting a U.S senator (Richard Schiff) at a subcommittee hearing, which leads to Jake’s expulsion from the program. Replacing him? Jake’s little brother Max (Jim Sturgess), who plays nicer with government types, and works under the Secretary of State (Ed Harris). Fraternal betrayal!
But three years later, just before oversight of Dutch Boy is scheduled to be handed from U.S. control to an international committee, the system shows signs of malfunctioning, as in causing extreme weather, not stopping it. When 300 Afghanis in a remote, sun-baked village suddenly freeze to death, POTUS (Andy Garcia) agrees to send someone to the international space station to fix it, and that means Bruce Willis … um, I mean, Jake. And Max has to tell his brother, too, once Max stops flirting with his hush-hush girlfriend, no-nonsense secret service agent Sarah (Abbie Cornish). But that fraternal betrayal! Will it be a problem?
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While Jake is shot into orbit to oversee an Agatha Christie mystery of who amongst a united nations of elite crew members sabotaged Dutch Boy from the inside, Max is trying to figure out who is trying to kill a Hong Kong-based system whiz (Daniel Wu, “Into the Badlands”) who may know too much about what’s looking to be a conspiracy that could go straight to the top. (Italics courtesy Sturgess’s ultra-whispery, annoyingly jittery performance, and Butler’s phoned-in variations on “Have it looked at!” and “Let me do my job!”)
But no matter how hairy things get, there’s always time for Max and Jake to push each other’s sibling buttons as they figure out how to save humankind, or for Max and wiseass techie millennial Dana (Zazie Beetz, “Atlanta”) to banter about relationships while they uncover a nefarious threat to the planet. Because come on, he’s dating a hot protector of the president, who may just be the world’s enemy!
When things go haywire and the countdown clock to a cataclysmic, Earth-wide geostorm starts, Devlin’s movie (which he wrote with Paul Guyot, “The Librarians”) metastasizes into the gargantuan-scale-but-still-cheap-looking version of a little boy’s toy time that it always wanted to be: throwing baseballs at figurines (hailstorm in Japan), drowning playsets in the bathtub (tidal wave in Dubai), turning a magnifying glass on insects (death ray on Moscow), and blowing a fan on everything (the aforementioned tornadoes).
Meanwhile, up in the cosmos, with a collapsing space station around them, Butler and shuttle commander Ute (Alexandra Maria Lara, “Rush”) play out an “Armageddon”-meets-“Gravity” scenario that is way more Bay-bonkers than Cuarón-controlled. Only Cornish, dutifully working the stoic-but-sexy thing as she fires guns, runs after assassins, and drives through a lightning storm, looks like she’s thinking of emerging from the ashes of a stupid movie, hopefully with a sizzle reel for her own blonde-badass flick.
The inconvenient truth about “Geostorm” is that it’s dumber than a box of asteroid-sized hail. But to take it seriously for just a second, it misses an opportunity to turn idealism about the world coming together to solve its biggest problem and instead turns it into more of cinema’s biggest problem: empty-headed spectacle.