‘Independence Day’ cowriter Dean Devlin makes his directing debut with another Earth-in-jeopardy yarn.
The planetary-disaster-film equivalent of a two-hour call to tech support, Dean Devlin’s Geostorm boils down to that classically annoying hail-mary bit of advice: Have you tried shutting it down and rebooting? Big, dumb, and boring, it finds the cowriter of Independence Day hoping to start a directing career with the same playbook — but forgetting several rules of the game. The result isn’t the end of the world, but it’s certainly not Armageddon either.
In the face of a wave of extreme weather events in 2019, we’re told, “the world came together as one,” building a network of weather-adjusting satellites. The scientist behind the whole thing, the genius who saved humanity, was Gerard Butler. You got a problem with that, buddy?
Butler’s Jake Lawson was a maverick, though (you don’t say!), and his unwillingness to follow protocol got him fired from his so-called “Dutch Boy” program. He was replaced by his brother Max (Jim Sturgess), presumably because the U.S. senators in charge understood that disaster movies, for whatever reason, require some long-seething family resentment to briefly get in the way of saving the world.
Three years after Max takes over, things start going wrong with the God machines. A desert village in Afghanistan is flash-frozen; the streets of Hong Kong erupt in flame. The President (Andy Garcia, speaking from his sternum) and his Secretary of State (Ed Harris, slumming like crazy) call Jake back into service, sending him up to the International Space Station IV to do diagnostics. There, the new crew doesn’t even recognize the man who saved the world three years ago.
As Jake starts collecting evidence of sabotage aboard the ISS, his brother is hearing scary hints about what may be going on. A colleague from Hong Kong comes all the way to Washington, D.C. to warn him of the “geostorm” someone may be planning to unleash — that’s an irreversible chain-reaction of disasters — but he’s killed before he can explain much. Luckily, Max’s girlfriend Sarah (Abbie Cornish) is on the President’s Secret Service detail, and her ethics prove remarkably flexible when her honey asks for illegal favors. (On three separate occasions, he asks her to commit possibly treasonous acts; each time, she offers one sentence of argument before agreeing.)
Viewers may have been drawn in by ads featuring tsunamis in Dubai and killer hail in Tokyo. But most of the body of the film consists of people logging into servers, talking about encryption, and reviewing surveillance footage. This happens both on Earth and out in space, and when the brothers need to testily share intel, they don’t just log into Skype: Jake must go into a special room for some reason, where a wall-sized “virtual conference” screen may be intended to remind us we’re in the future. (On the plus side, design-wise, the little fold-out “holoframes” that have replaced smart phones here are sort of cool.)
A conspiracy to seize global power by destroying most of humanity eventually comes into focus, but in their screenplay, Devlin and Paul Guyot have laid no groundwork for the villain’s unmasking. They know we’ve heard this story before, so why bother? More puzzling is their refusal to attend to the other business that makes viewers care about individuals when the end of humanity comes knocking. Having introduced Max’s teenage daughter before he leaves on his mission, they completely forget about her until the movie is almost over; they also decline to create any kind of rapport between Max and the astronauts who are about to help him save the world.
It can’t be easy to brew onscreen chemistry when one of the molecules involved is Butler, perhaps the least charismatic leading man working today. But the failure is pretty spectacular when it comes to Butler and Sturgess, whose performance suggests Devlin shouldn’t be directing actors for a living. Judging from the badly deployed and oddly unmoving mayhem onscreen here, maybe he shouldn’t be directing CGI effects either.
Production companies: Electric Entertainment, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Skydance Media
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, Talitha Bateman
Director: Dean Devlin
Screenwriters: Dean Devlin, Paul Guyot
Producers: Dean Devlin, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg
Executive producers: Herbert W. Gains, Don Granger, Marc Roskin
Director of photography: Roberto Schaefer
Production designer: Kirk M. Petruccelli
Costume designer: Susan Matheson
Editors: Chris Lebenzon, John Refoua, Ron Rosen
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Casting director: Ronna Kress