Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2017


Dutch Boy Has Fallen

On Geostorm, and every bad cliche that ever showed up in a terrible disaster movie

Warner Bros.
Director: Dean Devlin
Screenplay: Dean Devlin and Paul Guyot
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ed Harris, Zazie Beetz, Daniel Wu and Andy Garcia
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 49 minutes / 2.35:1
October 20, 2017
(out of four)

If you were ever curious what "not even trying" looks like, you needn't go any further than Geostorm, a 2017 feature film about a massive weather-controlling satellite system that does literally nothing to accommodate its premise.

By looking at it, or even listening to it, you would never know that this was a sci-fi movie with an outlandish concept. This is a movie in which - and let me just repeat this for clarity - a satellite system has been created and installed, in space, that controls all weather on Planet Earth, and yet nothing else, in the entire world, has changed. The world looks the same, computers and devices and cities look the same, people talk the same, dress the same ... I mean, even if we ignore the decades it would have taken for such a system to be designed and built, surely the likes of real estate and city planning would have gone bananas in a world in which weather was no longer a concern. But no, this movie assures us. Nothing has changed.

Oh, and the guy - yes, one guy - who invented (and I cannot emphasize this enough) satellites that literally control all weather on Planet Earth? You'd think he'd be a famous face, right? Perhaps he would have made the news a time or two? Nope, Geostorm tells us. Nobody ever recognizes him. In fact, when a security guard does recognize him at one point, our hero looks sheepishly embarrassed, as if he's never been recognized in public before. He's the anonymous guy who just happened to create one of the true reality-shifting achievements in human history, NBD. Oh, and you might assume that - after getting fired by the U.S. government for ... I don't know ... things? - the guy who invented a satellite system that controls all weather on Planet Earth could land another job, right? Nah. He becomes an unemployed recluse and the world immediately, and completely, forgets about him. Makes perfect sense.

You must understand: It is not enough to say Geostorm is just a flimsily written disaster flick. That much would be understandable. Forgivable, even. No, it's more than that. It is the complete lack of effort to justify or build upon anything the movie is about, narratively or conceptually. Its big, central plot idea is just plopped into an otherwise normal world. Something as fundamental as setting the stage is beyond this film's capabilities. It would not shock me in the least if I were to later find out this was an existing, non-sci-fi script - say, about a disgraced astronaut who gets to redeem himself by going into space to, like, diffuse a bomb planted by a Russian spy or something - that simply got tweaked to include the weather satellite idea, without any other alterations being made. At least that would explain the utter lack of impact the satellites that control all weather on Planet Earth have apparently had on the world and its citizens. (That lousy explanation is the best I could do, and yet it's leagues better than anything this terrible movie bothered to come up with.)

The mastermind here is Dean Devlin, who - as writer, director and producer of Geostorm - proves himself to be a genuine triple threat, the film's callous ineptitude starting and stopping with his skills and his decision-making. This is, for better or worse (read: worse), his definitive artistic statement. Writing the scripts for a bunch of shitty Roland Emmerich movies was simply his warm-up. In this, his feature directorial debut, he doubles down on everything that swiftly transformed those movies into self-parody. It almost feels like he's lobbing a response to the Trey Parkers of the world, rather than more earnestly trying to follow the formula of his longtime collaborator. This whole thing is so laughable that you're compelled to assume it's kidding - deliberately sending up the likes of The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 - except it's not. 2012 is Apocalypse Now next to Geostorm.

Did I mention that the woebegone genius hero astronaut and the government lackey sent to recruit him for a world-saving mission are estranged brothers? Well there you go, hack screenplay aficionados. You've got Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler, who's 47 but looks older) and Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess, who's 39 but looks much younger), who we discover are brothers early on when Jake affectionately calls Max "little brother" (an appellation no older brother in the history of real-world civilization has ever called his younger brother). Despite essentially saving the world from all weather-based catastrophes forever, Jake is unceremoniously fired by the government because he's a little too mouthy.

Years later, when his satellite system - which he named "Dutch Boy" - starts to misbehave, creating massive (and anachronistic) natural disasters and climatic events across the globe, Jake gets one more chance to prove himself. And it's up to Max, now a powerful government official in charge of maintaining Dutch Boy, to go recruit him. Prompted by his boss and mentor Captain Notsuspicious (Ed Harris), Max heads out to see the brother he hasn't spoken to in three years, finding him exactly where we expect to find him: in the same metal caravan on the beach that all depressed divorced dads in movies retreat to when their lives go south. (Although his is, naturally, equipped with solar panels.)

Armed with a sensationally bad haircut that he clearly does by himself in the bathroom mirror every week, and which he dutifully maintains for the duration of the motion picture, Max makes his dramatic pitch, and Jake "hesitantly" accepts. Off to space he goes, while Captain Notsuspicious and President Andy Garcia try to handle the logistics on the ground. Oh, and Max is secretly shacked up with a member of the president's secret-service detail.

On the space station, Jake goes about investigating what might have happened to his prized creation to cause all the recent damage. He butts heads with the station's captain, Ute Fassbinder, played by Alexandra Maria Lara in a deeply, conspicuously awkward physical performance in which her perpetually frozen posture suggests she's trying to blend in with the furniture. (It's genuinely odd. I've seen Lara in various prominent roles - most notably Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth, Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic Control, and as Hitler's secretary in Downfall - and she was always good. But I have no idea what she's going for in this Geostorm role.) Eventually Jake and Ute start flirting ... I think? A key exchange late in the film includes this line: "You'll have to manually insert it into the mainframe. Do you think you can ... find it?" Which I'm pretty sure is some sort of attempt at repartee. I won't spoil whether or not Jake was able to find ... y'know, it.

Meanwhile, the people of Earth are subjected to catastrophic weather patterns brought to them by the most boring special effects imaginable. I genuinely don't know what value this type of movie has anymore. The collapsing buildings, the cities on fire, the unconvincing CGI tidal waves ... and a tired third-rate action star in the middle of it all. At one point Gerard Butler dramatically utters the phrase, "I'll be back." Which, as far as I'm concerned, is a criminal act that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That is all I have to say about this movie.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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