Del and Mladen review ‘Geostorm’

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Geostorm” Starring Gerald Butler as Jake Lawson, Jim Sturgess as Max Lawson, Abbie Cornish as Sarah Wilson, Talitha Eliana Bateman as Hannah Lawson, Alexandra Maria Lara as Ute Fassbinder, and others. Directed by Dean Devlin. PG-13. 109 minutes. Streaming on Hulu.

Del’s take

Every now and then a movie comes along that makes me feel pretty good about my own creative efforts. “Geostorm” makes me feel like a goddamn genius.

“Geostorm” is dumb even by Mladen’s low standards, which lie somewhere between root cellar and hell. I can tell how much I hate a movie by the number of times I roll my eyes. By the end of “Geostorm” I needed Dramamine and one of those little fold-out paper bags the airline puts in your seat pocket. It’s that bad.

Which is weird because they spent a lot of money making the damn thing – $120 million – and got some decent actors – Andy Garcia, Abbie Cornish, Jim Sturgess and Ed Harris – Ed freaking Harris! who should have won an Oscar for “The Truman Show” and might be my favorite actor of all time. How could a movie with such great talent go so terribly wrong?

Reason No. 1: Gerard Butler.

Giving Gerard Butler the lead was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. I like Mr. Butler. He’s a reliable disaster movie performer – check “Greenland” and “Angel has Fallen.” Unfortunately, he’s also one of those actors whose face falls out of memory faster than giant hailstones fall out of the sky over Tokyo. I had to consult my Old Fart’s Digital Crutch, Msgr. Google, for other movies he’s starred in. Not a good sign.

Reason No. 2: Dean Devlin.

“Geostorm” was directed by Mr. Devlin, a graduate of the Roland Emmerich school of disaster filmmaking – except in this case he forgot to study for the final. For a disaster movie, you see remarkably few disasters. What you do see is a clunky whodunit plot that did little to pique my interest. I assumed the bad guy was either (a) an evil corporation dissatisfied with trillion-dollar profit margins, or (b) a Republican. Either way, the who was less important to me than the what. Dammit, Jim, I want my disaster movies to show disasters, not be disasters.

Reason No. 3: Some seriously freaking tectonic logic flaws.

“Geostorm” is predicated on the idea that escalating weather disasters will lead to a gigantic, all-consuming “geostorm,” the meteorological equivalent of Donald Trump’s political and business “empire.” So all nations on Earth marshal their resources to build a gigantic hairnet-kinda thing in orbit that has the ability to nip weather disasters in the bud.

First, let me point out the words “climate change” are not, to my recollection, ever uttered in this movie, which makes me wonder why, given that escalating weather disasters are the hallmark of climate change. Also, the suggestion that all nations (a) recognize the problem and (b) agree to cooperate isn’t science fiction. It’s fantasy. It destroys my willingness to suspend disbelief.

Second, the giant hairnet thingy is just – freaking – impossible. And building it would cost a helluva lot more than doing the things that already cause the hairpieces of conservatives and Republicans to spontaneously combust, things like planting trees, developing more efficient batteries, or inventing a fusion reactor. Is “Geostorm” a disaster flick or “Lord of the Rings”?

Speaking of which, it wouldn’t be a disaster movie unless there was (a) an MIA father who’s feeling guilty about his absence, (b) a child who’s pissed-off because Daddy “wasn’t there,” and (c) an estranged relationship that can only be mended by tens of millions of people dying in a global conflagration.

Yup, that’s “Geostorm,” a melding of all the worst aspects of “2012,” “Independence Day,” “Twister,” and maybe even “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” And to enhance your eye-rolling experience, it’s streaming on Hulu, which is the “Geostorm” of streaming services. I have never, ever streamed a movie on Hulu without something going wrong – the movie buffers, it locks up, the frame crashes and will not play, no matter how many times I clear my cache. I end up digging through my DVDs and watching it the old-fashioned way.

Movies like “Geostorm” are supposed to be dumb fun. Devlin forgot the “fun” part. I give it a D, and I don’t care how many insulting giant hailstones Mladen flings my way.

Mladen’s take

I like sci-fi that uses real-world happenings taking place on Earth to be plausible. So, when “Geostorm” showed moviegoers a low-orbit satellite mesh controlled by a space station that manipulates the planet’s weather to limit the impact of global warming, I was, like, this is silly. How could anyone, even a let-the-imagination-loose filmmaker, think that leashing the weather caused by Earth’s 4.2 billion cubic kilometers of atmosphere, 1.4 cubic km of ocean, and 510 million km of surface land area was doable as a realistic sci-fi movie?

Well, “Geostorm” writers and its director were much more on-target with their movie’s foundational theme than I figured. The October 2023 issue of Scientific American has a story titled, “A Stratospheric Gamble.” It covers some of the ways some scientists are hoping to alter Earth to lessen the impact of climate change. SRM (Solar Radiation Management), folks, is on its way. What is SRM? Injecting volcanic eruption-size quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to bounce some sunlight back to space. Lab coat geeks and governments (including our own) are thinking seriously about using geoengineering technology on a PLANETARY scale to mitigate the climate crisis, which was caused by our transportation and power generation technologies. Same old story and a history lesson never learned. Using new technology to offset the dangerous side effects of old technology always fails long-term and it’s always the poor who suffer.

So, the “Geostorm” scenario ain’t so unrealistic as it seemed to me before I read the Sci Am piece. That fact, paradoxically, allowed me to enjoy the film, more or less. In “Geostorm” the weather control space station starts to malfunction, causing its weather-inducing satellites to go berserk. An Afghan village is frozen to death. A part of Hong Kong is blasted to bits by overheating natural gas infrastructure. Lawson (Butler), the principal architect of the space station and an imperfect brother and father, is sent back to his orbiting masterpiece to determine what the hell is going on. As human command and control of the space station and its satellites continues to deteriorate, so does the weather on Earth. Incessant, infrastructure-destroying lightning in Florida that, somehow, increases the value of Mar-a-Lago. OK, I made up the part about Mar-a-Lago. A tsunami flooding one of the Persian Gulf’s fascist states. A flock of tornadoes here and hail the size of Thanksgiving turkeys there.

Del, and his combustible grudges, be damned. It’s a wonder he didn’t mention how the female commander of the space station becomes a weakling leader when Lawson embarks to save the day. Look, I agree with Del that “Geostorm” is maudlin and too much political thriller troupe. But, he should’ve been paying attention to the portrayed weather disasters. Del, start digging that bunker, fill it with canned goods, and make sure it has a helluva water pump to keep it dry because a geostorm is on the way, though it’ll come with a much less dramatic name – solar radiation management. And, rather than stocking the bunker with Dramamine, I suggest Xanax to help you with anger management.

Del contends “Geostorm” is bad crap. Ignore him. The film is good crap.

Mladen Rudman is a former newspaper reporter and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

“2012” Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover. Directed by Roland Emmerich. 158 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

The film “2012,” now on DVD and Blu-ray disc, is a man-made disaster about a natural catastrophe.

“My gosh,” I said to myself about halfway through the longer than 2 1/2 hour movie, “can’t the world come to an end quicker?”

In “2012,” landmasses shift cataclysmically because mutant neutrinos from a solar flare superheat the Earth’s core. The Himalayas become the ocean’s flood plain. California becomes a part of the seafloor.

The upheaval results in hundreds of millions of deaths, unless you’re an Arab royal or Russian mobster who can afford to drop $1 billion euros per person for luxurious passage on secretly built “arks,” or happen to be a member of the Curtis family et al.

Ineptly, yet decisively, led by Jackson Curtis, as portrayed by John Cusack, the family ceaselessly eludes death by blunt trauma or scorching again and again and again and again.

The earth uplifts beneath their car, they escape.

Bridges collapse, they dodge.

The ground tears open at their feet, they scurry.

California explodes, they find an airplane to maneuver around toppling skyscrapers like a mosquito flying between raindrops.

A pyroclastic flow – ash spewing, acid sizzling, boulders flaming – comes gushing their way, but they outrun it.

Finally, don’t ask how, the Curtises reach the Himalayas, trudging through snow in search of the arks.

Just as they’re about to give up hope for the tenth time of surviving, along comes a Buddhist monk driving a pickup truck along a winding trail. He gives the Curtises a lift to a back entrance of the cavernous mountaintop shipyard where the monk’s brother, who helped build the arks, smuggles the whole lot aboard Ark 4, which belongs to America. What luck, eh?

The Curtises live and “2012” ends with three arks steaming for Africa, which apparently survived the churning core. Get it? Humans got their evolutionary start in Africa and now they’re returning to Africa for another beginning. “2012” teems with such philosophic wonderment and profound irony.

That the ships were called Arks, by the way, was the final straw for me.

I’m tired of sectarian references, in this case, ark as in Noah’s Ark, constantly appearing in catastrophe movies.

Why did “2012” director Roland Emmerich have to label the vessels that saved a small portion of corrupt, self-serving mankind, arks, as though the endeavor was noble?

It would have been more accurate to label the arks “survival ships for the filthy rich and slimy politicians.”

Or, the arks could have been called, “keep-the-privileged-alive semi-submersibles,” mimicking the DEA description of vessels drug traffickers use to move product along the coastlines of Central and South America.

Rent, do not buy, “2012” only if you have a potent surround sound system. The movie’s sound effects are its only merit.

Del’s take

Director Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in “Independence Day.” He knocked over the Statue of Liberty in “The Day After Tomorrow.” In “2012” he inundates, melts down and otherwise reduces to soggy molecules the entire world in an orgy of destruction that will leave you wondering what you did for entertainment before CGI made it possible to watch a tidal wave overwash the Himalayas.

If there is such a thing as “disaster porn,” “2012” is triple-X.

The storyline is simple: A freak burst of neutrinos from the sun is causing the earth’s core to heat up, resulting in an extinction-level event (to borrow a term from “Deep Impact”). Volcanoes the size of Wyoming will destroy vast swaths of countryside while earthquakes and tsunamis finish off what the volcanoes fail to vaporize.

The lead viewpoint character is John Cusack, a could-have-been writer who operates a limo service to pay the rent. He lives in a dump, oversleeps appointments and consistently lets down his ex-wife, Amanda Peet, and his two children. Peet has moved on to a new husband, a man with a solid job who provides her and the kids with a great house and lots of fun gadgets – not to mention contempt for Cusack’s fumbling inadequacies as a father and a man.

See where this is going?

Meanwhile strange events are unfolding around the world. Earthquakes open cracks along fault lines in California. Lakes boil away in Yellowstone Park. The church channel lady with the pink cotton candy hair shaves her head and gets a nose bob … OK, maybe that’s a little too weird but you get the picture.

What follows is a hair-raising series of improbable cliffhangers resulting in … well, let’s just say if you’re familiar with the Roland Emmerich formula you’ll not be disappointed.

“2012” is silly and stupid, but it’s also a lot of fun.

The science is non-existent. Take those pesky neutrinos. Neutrinos have no mass, which means they pass right through you and me, the buildings we inhabit, and the earth itself. How can something that has no mass heat the earth’s core?

In the movie we see a huge Russian transport airplane, an Antonov 225, perform a 60-degree power climb. Ain’t happening folks, not even with a crazy Russian hotdog of a pilot.

And “2012” seems to forget all about the nuclear winter hypothesis, which predicts that if you inject enough soot and dust into the atmosphere, the sun isn’t going to shine for months if not years.

I’m curious. Why do these disaster movies never take into account the hundreds of wrecked nuclear reactors around the world? All that plutonium has got to go somewhere.

And why does every disaster movie center around a divorced dad trying to win back the love of his children, if not his ex-wife? John Cusack’s role seems lifted directly from Steven Spielberg’s “The War of the Worlds” Tom Cruise character. Or “Independence Day.” Or even “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

I guess we’re supposed to ignore those logic flaws as we watch an aircraft carrier of a surfboard take out the White House, or the San Andreas fault submerge the entire West Coast into the Pacific.

I can do that for two hours.

When “2012” debuted on DVD it blew away the competition. I had to ask the folks at the local Blockbuster if they had a copy behind the counter because the shelves were empty. As I waited, two more customers asked for it. (Speaking of which, don’t you hate the demise of the local DVD rental store? Netflix, Red Box and streaming are lousy substitutes for wandering the aisles as you check out the dust jackets on a DVD case.)

I give “2012” 3½ out of five stars, subtracting points for bad science and hackneyed storytelling, but awarding points for special effects and entertainment value.

Your $5 rental fee won’t have been wasted.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.