½*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C+
starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Andy Garcia
screenplay by Dean Devlin & Paul Guyot
directed by Dean Devlin
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It's the near future. Not much has changed, except the President is conspicuously not repulsive, "HoloFrames" have supplanted cell phones, and climate change is no longer an immediate threat, thanks to the creation of a global weather-management system called Dutch Boy, after the story of the little Dutch boy who plugs a leak in a dike with his finger. (Like all those movie scientists who've named their game-changer "Icarus," the christeners of Dutch Boy should've read to the end of the story.) Gerard Butler's Jake Lawson scienced Dutch Boy together but got kicked off the project when he switched it on ahead of schedule. Now, with the damn thing turning miles of Afghanistan desert into frozen tundra, White House lackey Max (Jim Sturgess with inexplicable hair) knows there is only one man who can get to the bottom of this glitch: his estranged brother Jake, who reticently returns to the International Climate Space Station (ICSS), leaving young daughter Hannah (Talitha Bateman) to fret for his safety and narrate the film for that soupçon of folksiness. More incidents accumulate both on the ground and miles above the earth, including a terrifying ordeal for a lady in a bikini who's cornered by a flash-freeze wave, leading Jake and Max to believe that President Palma (Andy Garcia) might be plotting a planet-wide attack of hellish weather--a "geostorm," if you will--in order to impede Dutch Boy's upcoming transfer of ownership from America to "the world."
Geostorm is the feature directing debut of Dean Devlin, who proves so simpatico with former partner Roland Emmerich that I believe we now have an excess of environmental pornographers and should consider hunting one of them for sport. (It's hardly just that there are two of these guys and only one Ryan Coogler.) Poor test-screening scores purportedly drove production company Skydance to replace multi-hyphenate Devlin with the screenwriter of Terminator Genisys, the director of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and the producer of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for a round of reshoots, which is sort of like fixing a car with faulty brakes by painting it a different colour. Their efforts--largely focused on giving Jake a sparring partner for the ICSS scenes in the form of German scientist Ute Fassbender (the never-unwelcome Alexandra Maria Lara)--did little to disrupt the globetrotting, cross-cutting, and city-levelling formula established in Devlin's collaborations with Emmerich. Originally shot in 2014, Geostorm saw its release delayed multiple times by all the tinkering and studio apprehension; that it was finally unleashed without fanfare in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria isn't Devlin's fault, though with Puerto Rico begging for electricity his fetish for global chaos and destruction has never seemed a more shameful kink.
The tastelessness doesn't end there. But for the thinnest of narrative excuses, almost all of Dutch Boy's victims are Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern. Nefarious Secretary of State Dekkom (Ed Harris, who can barely keep a straight face) wants to "turn back the clock to 1945," i.e., make America great again, although he downplays the implicit racism of this agenda with an ideologically discombobulating rant against capitalism. (A pasty British accomplice of his (Robert Sheehan) tells Jake there'll still be stuff to spend money on after the Geostorm™ because they're going to keep "the good bits.") Why, though, did the hapless-schmuck engineers (Richard Regan Paul and Daniel Wu) who meet untimely if hilarious ends after stumbling on the conspiracy have to be non-white, too? Why is the young black woman ("Atlanta"'s Zazie Beetz) Max goes to for help a Big Gulp-slurping font of inexhaustible sass? She helps save the world, yes, but trust me when I say Chewbacca doesn't get a medal, and a final presidential sermon on unity rings hollow no matter that it's coming from the mouth of a Democrat and, extratextually, a Cuban-born actor, because it controverts the perceptual disparity of a film that has treated people of colour like cannon fodder.
Geostorm is also, alas, irritatingly stupid1 (Jake's brilliant solution to stopping the titular event is to, uh, reboot Dutch Boy), with nary a tongue in cheek nor an idiosyncratic character to make the infantile plotting more palatable. In other words: vintage Devlin, who hasn't matured much as a writer since scripting Stargate, Independence Day, and 1998's Godzilla for Emmerich and whose action sensibility hasn't developed beyond the Emmerich school of people outrunning disasters. Poor, uncredited Bikini Girl is just the tip of the iceberg, no pun intended. Here, an electric car--one with the horsepower to race the Salt Flats--is chased by a rolling earthquake leaving fiery sinkholes in the pavement2, and a hailstorm evacuation in Tokyo causes a pile-up. The whole concept of Geostorm is flawed, really, given that the heroes are actively trying to prevent the exact thing we've come to see, saddling the audience with the same moral quandary as a post-AIDS John Holmes porno. Nearly every decision the filmmakers have made is misguided, but for me the most frustrating is their torpedoing of the one true crowd-pleasing moment: Already fishtailing to avoid lightning bolts and gunshots, Max's Secret Service girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) makes a U-turn to confront the car shooting at hers and returns fire, killing the driver. Palma, in the backseat with Max, deadpans, "Marry her." But then when Max punches out Dekkom she volleys the joke back, telling Palma, "That's my fiancee." Then she ebulliently introduces herself to Jake as "Max's fiancee!" It's overkill. It's retrograde. It's Geostorm.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner brings Geostorm to Blu-ray Disc (and, in a separate release, Blu-ray 3D) in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that's pretty much status quo for the format. Roberto Schaefer (Monster's Ball) shot the film digitally using the Red Epic Dragon and managed to sneak a bit of his trademark warmth into an image dominated by high-technology. Amber and sea tones dominate the palette, which is vibrantly reproduced. Although the brightest whites tend to blow out, it mostly works in context. A patina of faux-grain coats the presentation, but it's subtle and undistracting, and the occasionally dodgy CGI looks more cinematic as a result. The accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is enjoyably noisy in and of itself, showcasing a wall-of-sound approach to mixing that does have some standout sfx--the alarms and messages of warning chiming from the rear-channels, for example, do more to bring Dutch Boy's mission control alive than any of the extras standing around staring into computer terminals. Dialogue is--say it with me--lamentably clear, while the bass is not ungenerous.
Three short making-of featurettes decorate the platter. "Wreaking Havoc" (7 mins., HD) is all about how the visual effects coordinators really went for it because this was in fact a movie about unnatural disasters. VFX supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun delves into the challenge of conveying perspective and depth with lightning bolts in some detail ("Shrinking them doesn't really sell that it was further away because a lightning bolt doesn't have scale, it could just be a smaller lightning bolt")--and for those few brief moments I was sincerely riveted. True to its title, "The Search for Answers" (4 mins., HD) is something of a rosetta stone in revealing that the idea for Geostorm came from Devlin's then-6-year-old daughter, likewise named Hannah. It ends in confusion as various talking-heads circle around the picture's "message" but never land on anything coherent. Finally, "An International Event" (6 mins., HD) demonstrates an admirable and touching commitment to diverse casting that is absolutely steamrolled by the material. We learn that Daniel Wu is so big in China, looky-loos had to be barricaded during filming on the streets of Hong Kong. Trailers for Ready Player One, Justice League, and the rebooted Lara Croft: Tomb Raider cue up on startup of the disc. Digital and DVD copies of Geostorm are included with a purchase.
1 Contemplating the rationale for Dutch Boy's seemingly built-in "Countdown to Geostorm" timer gave me a nosebleed.
2 To be fair, the background tableau in this sequence of Hong Kong high-rises casually toppling like dominoes is truly the stuff of nightmares and not something I'll soon forget. If this and the White House blowing up in Independence Day turn out to be Devlin's legacy, well, most filmmakers never even get one iconic image.