It has a scene where a guy flings hubcaps at another guy in the middle of a raging superstorm, with the wind turning the hubcaps into lightning-fast implements of destruction. It has a scene where the good guys escape the bad guys by turning an entire shopping mall into a giant, deadly vacuum. It has an elaborate truck chase where the bad guys, while trying to outrun both the good guys and the storm of the century, make the rather baffling mistake of... fucking while driving. It has conveniently timed tsunamis and a hurricane eyewall that looks like somebody just nuked Mordor. It has impenetrable technobabble jutting up against awkward football metaphors and a reverie on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches sandwiched between a monologue about climate change and the triumphant revelation of a character’s hidden home arsenal. If The Hurricane Heist didn’t exist, America would have had to collectively dream it into being.
Director Rob Cohen, now known primarily as the guy who helmed the first Fast and the Furious, has always excelled at crossbreeding Hollywood high-concept with B-movie dash. He’s never afraid to lean into the ridiculousness of his scenarios or to mix and match genres. (His best film remains 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a biopic-cum-love story that was shot like a sports epic.) His films are a cacophony of tones and impulses, alternately authentic and ludicrous, wink-wink ironic yet totally earnest, and he probably wouldn’t want it any other way. It was pretty much written on his forehead that one day he would direct a movie called The Hurricane Heist.
This one opens in 1992, during Hurricane Andrew, as we see two young Alabama boys witness their father get steamrolled by a loose water tower — just before the house they’re hiding in gets shredded to ribbons and the clouds above them form a giant skull. Then we zoom forward to today, as their region braces for Tropical Storm Tammy, whose severity seems to be rising by the hour. One of those boys, Will Rutledge (Toby Kebbell), now works as a storm chaser, though he prefers to be called a meteorologist. His brother Breeze (yes, really), played by Ryan Kwanten, is a mopey drunkard who runs the local repair and towing service.
Their small town of Gulfport is about to be walloped by a storm that Will knows everyone is underestimating. (We know this because at one point, he stands on the shore, stares down the storm, and exclaims, “They’re underestimatin' you!”) The rapidly deteriorating weather also makes a handy cover for a group of thieves determined to rob a local government facility where currency being taken out of circulation is shredded; there’s a cool, unwanted $600 million there, just waiting to be liberated. Through a series of events too silly to explain here, the thieves take Breeze hostage, so Will has to ally himself with Casey Corbin (Maggie Grace), an ATF agent, to save his brother and take down the robbers.
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It’s an ideal dumb-fun concept, and at times the movie feels like a clearinghouse for '90s action-movie clichés. The dopey dialogue oscillates between breathless weather jargon (“Run some numbers on the spiral bands!” “Satellite’s got it at 999 millibars right now!”) and earnest, obvious underlining of every basic emotion. Will and Breeze’s childhood trauma is matched by Casey’s regret over a recent job where her wrong decision got a fellow agent killed. (“I made a bad call. But no one can punish me like I can punish myself.”) The bad guys count among their number mercenary soldiers, slithery hackers, a foreign-accented mastermind, and an aging, frustrated small-town sheriff. (“You watch these semis rollin' through this shithole day after day. You just know it’s all gettin’ shredded. Kinda gets you thinkin’, Will. Gives a man ideas.”) It's like the filmmakers went into the Die Hard Store, stretched out their arms, rolled their eyes back, and bellowed, "Give me eeevvveeeerryything!"
Even the spectacle seems a frantic, desperate-to-please patchwork, with goofy CGI weather effects crammed against solid practical stunts. And at his best, Cohen can make you laugh at the silliness onscreen even as he grips you, the same way he can sometimes make you care for cardboard characters. He's not exactly a good director of actors — the performances here are uniformly terrible, though it's not like the script gives the cast a chance — but he keeps everyone moving, always giving them bits of business to distract us from their acting.
The film has a defiant self-awareness. As Will and Casey hide out from the bad guys and the storm, they even take a pee break, just like you might. (“All that water,” she sighs.) Then they take a lunch break — because dammit, fighting storms and criminals takes a lot out of you. (Don't worry, even these ostensible lulls are shot and acted like action scenes.) During one face-off, after a character helpfully explains for those of us in the audience a not particularly crucial bit of backstory, the person he’s speaking to yells, “What are you telling me this for? I was there, you idiot!” Is all this a good thing? Not always. The pee break is an inspired touch — I always wondered if Indiana Jones ever had to use the bathroom — but characters complaining about the stupidity of their dialogue doesn’t make the dialogue any less stupid, and it might just make it stupider.
The Hurricane Heist delivers what it promises on some basic level: It’s got plenty of hurricane, and it’s got plenty of heist. But those looking for Sharknado-style idiocy will probably be disappointed, as will those looking for anything that makes sense. That might be the film's fundamental problem. This is an odd combination when you think about it: Heist movies, for all their suspense theatrics, are fairly cerebral affairs, problem-solving exercises built around intricate pyramids of movie logic; big storm movies, on the other hand, are excuses to mainline pure, dumb spectacle. Here, the heist isn’t nearly as smart as it probably should be, and the hurricane isn’t quite as silly as it needs to be. The movie wants to make everyone happy and — to cite one cliché that somehow didn't make it into The Hurricane Heist — you know what they say about trying to do that.