The Hurricane Heist gets down to business from the moment the opening credits appear on a dark screen and we hear the rumble of thunder on the soundtrack. It’s 1992, and Hurricane Andrew is slamming the fictional town of Gulfport, Alabama, making orphans of two young boys named (no kidding) Will and Breeze, who watch helplessly through the windows of a farmhouse as their papa is flattened by debris. As the storm clouds recede they clearly resolve the features of a demonic face, laughing at the children from the heavens. (I think I said this out loud in my living room: “Wow.”) Fast-forward to the present day, where a guilt-racked Breeze (Ryan Kwanten) is sleeping his way through days and nights as a handyman (and ladies’ man) while semi-estranged brother Will (Toby Kebbell) has earned himself a job as a synoptic meteorologist–that is, he drives around in a weather-nerd Batmobile, analyzing storm fronts and predicting their impact, determined that the skies will mock him no more. Bringing the high concept to this pity party is new-in-town treasury agent Casey Corbyn (Maggie Grace), who happens to be charged with protecting $600 million of U.S. currency earmarked for destruction at a government facility. Unfortunately for her, the paper shredder is temporarily offline and there are villains about who plan to use cover provided by an incoming hurricane to make off with the cash before it can be destroyed. It gets a little complicated–the money ends up locked in an impenetrable vault inside the compound and Casey ends up outside, tooling around with Will. Together, they need to foil the robbery and rescue the hapless Breeze, who is being held hostage inside as the winds grow stronger and stronger.
Casey is good with a gun, but the storyline hinges on Will being some kind of hurricane whisperer, able to anticipate developments in the storm and turn them to his advantage. In an early scene, he warns his complacent boss about the gravity of the situation: “You’re underestimating her–I can smell it.” A bit later, he’s flinging hubcaps into the storm, where turbulence turns them into high-velocity murder weapons. It’s that kind of movie–essentially weightless, though its heroes have their share of tortured backstories. (Will blamed Breeze for their father’s death and told him so all those years ago; Casey was involved in a tragic snafu in Utah that resulted in her de facto demotion.) It’s clear from the start that The Hurricane Heistis not based on a true story, nor is it interested in being one of those punishing human-endurance adventure yarns about a group of brave and/or unlucky men whose grit is tested by a one-on-one power struggle with Nature Herself. Instead, it’s a glossy Hollywood actioner produced on a mid-range budget in partnership with two VFX houses that delivers exactly what its title describes so bluntly: a mash-up of a natural-disaster and heist movie, its potential overall feel-bad quotient limited by outlandish visuals and a strategically acquired PG-13 rating.
Director Rob Cohen may not be on the A-list these days, but The Fast and the Furious wasn’t that long ago, and his core competencies are still in evidence, including a classical sense of composition and character blocking for the widescreen aspect ratio, as well as the ability to choreograph coherent vehicular mayhem and other action. He got a lot of help from ace DP Shelly Johnson, who’s done time on VFX films, including a Marvel movie and Jurassic Park 3 (both directed by Joe Johnston). His work here is necessarily monochromatic due to the grey weather conditions and dull institutional interiors, but there are details in his lighting set-ups–a bright backlight to add contrast, or some soft spots of light to help define the shape of the room–that bring out depth in the images. The performances are more of a mixed bag. Kebbell’s character never comes into focus (his laboured Nottingham-on-the-Mississippi southern accent doesn’t help), but the Australian Kwanten does a little better at nailing a type, maybe thanks to his years of experience playing a local NOLA yokel on True Blood. In something of an inversion, Grace goes from fresh-scrubbed all-American agent to bedraggled grunt, playing the part of action hero for much of the film–at least until she’s sidelined as a damsel in distress. (Would that the screenwriters had managed to avoid that trope completely.) The requisite flamboyant bad guy is rogue agent Perkins (Ralph Ineson), a snarling, self-regarding pro who’s just had it up to here with the incompetence of his colleagues. (“I’m sick of waiting for people,” he growls.) He’s working with a pair of horny hacker accomplices (Jamie Andrew Cutler and Melissa Bolona) dressed for a Bruno Mars concert who can barely keep their paws off each other long enough to type a line of code, but it comes to naught–you could write them out of the story with barely a change to the plot, although their presence adds a tiny frisson of wtf? that must be a deliberate effect, given how often they’re made the focus on screen.
If the PG-13 prevents those two from getting too frisky, it also keeps the bloodshed in check. When the villains swarm the treasury complex early on, they do so with guns loaded with tranquilizer darts–the guards are knocked out then dragged downstairs and locked up in the basement. Those scrupulous practices are tested as the body count rises; once the storm hits, a frustrated Perkins is threatening to go hard-R by feeding one of Casey’s colleagues into the disturbingly man-size paper-shredder. The script never goes Grand Guignol but it does occasionally pander to a strain of American bro subculture, as when Will describes a plan in football terms as a “flea flicker,” or Breeze reveals his hidden cache of weapons and declares, “I am a citizen of Alabama.” On the other hand, the longest string of expository dialogue here is dedicated to explaining that climate change is no joke. It may not be scientifically accurate, but The Hurricane Heist is at least pro-science, and that has to count for something. And the film reaches its delicious apex of boo-yah! when Will uses a barometer and a handgun to create what he calls a “pressure inversion” by shooting a flare through the glass ceiling of a shopping mall so that everyone inside is sucked up through the hole like rag-doll souls called to the rapture. Goofy? Yeah. Implausible? Without a doubt. But also kind of spectacular. While The Hurricane Heist bombed with critics and tanked at the box office, on some level I dig it. It’s an impressive level of craft brought to bear in the service of nothing more than filling out your lazy Saturday afternoon.