By Preston Wilder
The space station needs to be shut down, and only the President of the United States has the ‘kill codes’. Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) has a cunning plan: the President is due to address a party conference, and will be freshening up in his hotel room beforehand. He, Jake, can sneak into the room – with the help of his brother’s Secret Service girlfriend – and steal the codes while the Prez is taking a shower! This is a hilarious plan, possibly marking the first time that movies have shown the leader of the free world performing his ablutions. (Does he keep the kill codes in his trouser pocket? Does he sing in the shower?) Alas, the plan gets abandoned, and Jake has to settle for kidnapping the President instead.
Even that is a pretty silly twist in a film that purports to be torn from the headlines, warning of the risks of global warming – then again, Geostorm is a pretty silly movie, though it takes a while to discern just how silly. I admit the po-faced tone threw me at first. “Everyone was warned, but no-one listened,” sighs the narrator in the opening lines, going on to recount how the weather went mad in 2019, a heatwave killed 2 million people in Madrid and so on and so forth, forcing the world to band together and create a network of protective high-tech satellites known as ‘Dutch Boy’. In a year of real-life earthquakes in Mexico, wildfires in Iberia, volcanos threatening to erupt in Bali, 46-degree days in Nicosia and two consecutive hurricanes in the Caribbean – plus a recent ‘ex-hurricane’ in Ireland, of all places – any tale of extreme weather has our attention.
The beefy presence of bad-movie talisman Gerard Butler doesn’t inspire confidence that Geostorm will do justice to its subject, especially when it focuses more on Jake’s bickering with estranged brother Max (Jim Sturgess) than it does on the perils of climate change. Will the world ultimately be destroyed due to sibling rivalry? But the turning point, for me, came about 45 minutes in, when Cheng Long, a scientist in Hong Kong, comes to Max with exciting news. Cheng was in Hong Kong when extreme heat led to roads cracking open, fireballs erupting, skyscrapers toppling onto each other and falling like ninepins; this disaster was put down to a gas-mains explosion (!) but Cheng knows what’s really going on, viz. a secret conspiracy. He meets Max to tell him so – but, just as he’s about to say hello, a thug comes up behind him and pushes him into traffic! Cheng lies on the asphalt, dying. Max leans over him, trying to figure out what’s going on – and Cheng just has time for one vital clue. “Zeus!… Zeus!” he mutters, then promptly expires.
That was when I knew that Geostorm (directed by Dean Devlin, who produced Independence Day) can only be enjoyed, if at all, as a cheesy B-movie – though of course your mileage will vary. You may only realise it later, when a scene of tornados hitting Mumbai is played off a street urchin looking for his dog. (Spoiler: boy and dog are reunited in the end.) The penny may not drop till that bit where Jake plans to steal the kill codes while the President’s taking a shower. It seems clear, however, that the film can’t be taken seriously. This is a film with that glorious cliché where Jake starts describing his plan, then his sidekick supplies the rest of the plan and adds “Of course!”. (‘We can give Gerard Butler $1 billion…’ ‘…so he’ll retire gracefully and not make any more movies. Of course!’) This is a film where the geostorm – a series of simultaneous catastrophic weather events – is announced by a digital countdown reading: “Time To Geostorm 1:30:00”.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter: even a silly movie about global warming makes the point about global warming. I also have quite a high tolerance for this kind of thing, relishing stock details like the flamboyant, socially awkward hacker who helps save the world (see also: DJ Qualls in The Core, Donald Glover in The Martian), in this case an African-American woman with mushroom-cloud hair and enormous circle earrings. (“Looks like we got a bro-spiracy here!” she declares cheerfully.) Above all, this is a film where the special effects are smarter than the script: there’s a sense of awe in seeing Rio devastated by an ice storm, or Tokyo pounded by giant hailstones – and perhaps a little schadenfreude in seeing Dubai (a city with one of the largest carbon footprints in the world) nearly flattened by a massive tsunami. For all its cheesy shortcomings, Geostorm shows us terrible, deeply harrowing images: cities in ruins, victims screaming, the President of the United States naked in the shower. Well OK, not that last one.
DIRECTED BY Dean Devlin
STARRING Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish
Sci fi action
US 2017 109 mins