Remember that joke in The Simpsons where a tanker truck full of milk explodes? Geostorm, the directorial debut of producer Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day), does this on a much larger scale. At one point in the disastrous proceedings, a bunch of lightning bolts strike a stadium and the whole thing inexplicably goes up in one gigantic fireball, as if the place is filled to the brim with kerosene. This is the level of dumb that Geostorm is working on. However, to my surprise, I mildly enjoyed this monstrosity, not just because of its dumbness, but because of its idealism.
The central premise is totally absurd, not just from a scientific perspective but a political one. A few years from now, faced with heaping piles of global warming-related disasters, the countries of the world decide to take action. I’m sure they adopt some common sense measures, reflected by the prominence of electric cars, but the big thing is Dutch Boy. Named after the kid who stuck his finger in a dike1 to prevent a flood, Dutch Boy is a world-wide array of weather controlling satellites, managed from a gigantic version of the International Space Station. International is the key word here. This world-saving project was undertaken by many different countries, banding together for the greater good. Once one of our heroes, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), arrives on the ISS, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t meet any named characters who are from the USA. Geostorm actually plays with this a bit, introducing red herrings of foreign people of color who seem to be baddies, only to undercut those expectations. Lawson’s very first scene has him shouting down a Senator (a sadly wasted Richard Schiff), making clear that this epic project was the result of many people of many different nationalities, and that the United States has no exclusive claim to it.
Geostorm is being marketed as a disaster movie, giving every film critic and their mother an excuse to say that it’s a cinematic disaster, but that’s not quite accurate. There are certainly scenes of mass destruction and, to quote the MPAA rating explanation for Twister, “graphic depictions of very bad weather,” but it’s more of a dunderheaded techno-thriller than anything else. Gerard Butler, who doesn’t stab anybody in the head in this movie, plays the scientist who designed and supervised the construction of Dutch Boy. He’s a loose cannon, has an aversion to authority and, of course, doesn’t like politicians. This gets him booted from the project shortly after its completion, transforming him into a walking country song as he loses his house, his wife, and his dog. Instead of using his abundant experience and expertise to get a new job or start his own aerospace company, he runs off to the middle of nowhere to day-drink and fix old people’s electric cars in front of his trailer.
Being the kind of movie that this is, something goes wrong: an entire village in Afghanistan is flash-frozen, hilariously halting people in mid-stride. Dutch Boy is clearly screwing the pooch, so the President and his advisors convince our boy Gerry to come back into the fold and save the day. As Butler stomps and growls around the ISS searching for saboteurs, his estranged younger brother ends up in a cloak-and-dagger kind of role, rooting out the Earth-bound conspiracy with the help of his Secret Service agent girlfriend and his snarky hacker buddy. The whole thing is pretty rote, with evil henchmen lurking in the shadows and breathless scenes of people staring at computer progress bars and meaningless lines of code. Every so often we cut to another far-flung part of the world being subjected to some incongruous type of weather disaster. A heat wave at the Kremlin. Tropical waves frozen mid-crest. The scenes of mass destruction are so cartoonish and divorced from the main characters that nothing ever triggered my usual aversion to disaster porn.
A cute dog is endangered at one point. The dog is not harmed.
Geostorm’s premise is idiotic, the characters are thinly sketched and quippy, and the whole thing is saddled with a breaktakingly dull feud between the two brothers. Spoiler alert: that feud is resolved by the end of the movie, because elements like that are not introduced in movies like this if they aren’t going to be resolved in the tritest way possible. By a lot of standards this is a “bad movie,” but it’s also inoffensive; slight and breezy and entirely watchable. It’s the kind of movie you bring up on Netflix on a whim and go “that was fine” when the credits roll. As Douglas Adams might put it, Geostorm is mostly harmless. It’s also a nationalist’s nightmare, and I have to applaud it for that. While crying. It posits that, within a decade, the global community will recognize the existential threat of global warming, band together to address it, and create a spectacularly advanced and complicated space program to do so. Geostorm is adorable in its naiveté, even if it’s kind of sad given our current political situation. The film’s release was delayed for a while, with reshoots directed by Danny Cannon,2 so Devlin probably still had hope for humanity when he wrote it.
If you’re in the mood for a starry-eyed and shlocky pick-me-up (with a side of armageddon), Geostorm might do in a pinch.