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 Tempest in a Teapot 

Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler
Warner Brothers
 109 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Dean Devlin
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess 

Although Geostorm, the new disaster film from Roland Emmerich protégé Dean Devlin, is clearly a product of the 21st century, with its ominous warnings about climate change, it actually harkens back to the 1970’s, when Hollywood studios regularly trotted out big budget, big star fare like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. No, Geostorm isn’t anything like those two films; instead, it more closely resembles the made-for-TV movies-of-the-week featuring television stalwarts such as Chad Everett trying to save a handful of character actors from a deadly mudslide. Sadly, even judged by the Chad Everett mudslide standard, Geostorm is a disaster.


The film begins in the year 2019, when a narrative voiceover informs the audience that, after cataclysmic natural disasters threatened to wreak havoc on the planet, the various nations banded together to create “Dutch Boy,” a satellite defense system that would rein in such disasters by controlling the surrounding climate. The system was developed by Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) a brilliant maverick who so enraged Congress that his own brother Max (Jim Sturgess) fired him. Three years later, Dutch Boy is due to be turned over to an international consortium, but it begins malfunctioning and creating disasters on its own. Since no one else knows as much about Dutch Boy’s operation as Jake does, Max is instructed by the Secretary of State (Ed Harris) to ask Jake to go back in space to fix the problem.


When Jake arrives at the orbiting space station, he discovers that the problems are not caused by design flaws or malfunctions, but that the system has been deliberately sabotaged by some of the technicians on board working in conjunction with some Earthbound villains who want to cause chaos. So, Jake teams up with the space station’s captain (Alexandra Maria Lara) to repair the damage. However, although Jake finds out who the enemy agent is, he is unable to prevent the agent from programming a massive catastrophic event, the titular geostorm that will start in a few hours unless Jake can reboot the system, which requires a kill code that only the President has.


To do that, Jake needs the help of brother Max, who has to get the President (Andy Garcia) to personally enter the kill code. This is somewhat problematic, since the President may be the mastermind behind the plot in the first place. Max tries to figure out who’s who while working with his fiancée (Abbie Cornish) to basically kidnap the President and force him to enter the override codes.


At its heart, Geostorm is a disaster movie, or, more precisely, a collection of a half dozen or so mini-disaster movies, each of them featuring massive weather-based destruction wreaking havoc in some major world city. So, viewers get to see firestorms in Hong Kong, a tsunami in Dubai, tornados in Mumbai, giant hail storms in Tokyo, and a giant freezing wave in Rio. Although the film was supposedly made on a $100 million budget, most of which apparently went for effects work, the results were decidedly underwhelming.


Further, even though the settings for these various disasters vary widely, director Dean Devlin adopts the same hoary plot device in each one, namely focusing on one particular individual who desperately tries to stay ahead of the catastrophe. Thus, we have the man in the clip below, emerging from a shopping trip, a bikini-clad beachgoer in Rio, and, most ridiculously, a little boy and his dog in Mumbai. That the film tries to generate emotion out of a boy and his dog being separated while dozens of CGI extras are being vaporized tells you something about the level of sophistication in the script.


Actually, it’s a bit hard to say just what was or wasn’t in the script of Geostorm originally. The film is credited to Devlin, who has a lot of experience working on similar (albeit better) films with Roland Emmerich, and Devlin co-wrote the script. However, when test screenings not surprisingly proved dismal, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought in to oversee the project, with some new scenes added under a new director. Like Emmerich, Bruckheimer is not a man known for dignity and restraint in his films, so it follows that the result is a movie filled with hot air and quite light on anything resembling character development or subtlety.


For whatever reason, the finished movie is not yet another cautionary tale about climate change itself or even one about the dangers of man trying to play God by manipulating natural events, but an all-out conspiracy thriller that makes little sense, even by the standards of the genre. The only reason for this type of plot seems to be to fill up some time back on planet Earth with car chases and shootouts, culminating in the bad guys pulling out a convenient RPG rifle from the trunk of their car to try to stop Max from entering the right codes in time (it’s also amazing that the movie’s computer systems know the exact moment at which the extreme weather conditions become irreversible, allowing for the display of a very convenient doomsday clock). As for the conspirators themselves, veteran filmgoers should easily be able to spot each one of them from the very first scene in which he or she appears.


By conventional standards, Geostorm is a bad movie that doesn’t even satisfy on the technical level. Had it appeared 40 years ago on network TV, it would not have been exceptional, but magnifying its flaws on the big screen make it seem even worse. The only redeeming “feature,” other than a few decently staged action scenes back on Earth, is the usual swaggering performance from Gerard Butler. He’s not in the least believable as a scientist, but watching him trash talk the U.S. Senator (Richard Schiff) grilling him at a Senate hearing is probably the most entertaining moment in the movie. Needless to say, when the typical bad acting from a miscast Gerard Butler is the best part of the movie, it’s safe to say that Geostorm is a cinematic disaster to be avoided at any cost.

In this scene, a disastrous heat wave hits Hong Kong.

Read other reviews of Geostorm:


Geostorm (2017) on IMDb