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Geostorm, a disaster movie about a weather apocalypse, somehow manages to be unbelievably boring

If you must see it, see it in 4DX.

Geostorm is not as interesting as its lead art might make you think
Geostorm is not as interesting as its lead art might make you think.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

It’s not a crime for a movie to be boring. Boredom can be a rare and precious gift in a culture of distraction. We should all be bored more often.

But the level of boredom I experienced during Geostorm ought to qualify as at least a second-degree felony in the state of New York. Consider the title of the movie. Consider its central conceit, which is that the whole entire world will experience a massive “weather event” at once. Consider also that I saw it in one of the nine theaters nationwide projecting the film in “4DX,” which means my chair bucked around while lights flashed, the lumbar support occasionally punched me from behind, and the seat in front of me sprayed what the theater calls “face water” at me during key moments.

Experiencing such a film, I should not be fighting the temptation to check my phone (I didn’t) or yawn (I did) at regular 10-minute intervals. I don’t demand cinematic greatness from every film. But I should, at the very least, be entertained.

But even though no movie that lends itself to individually tailored special effects should be a royal snoozefest, it’s 2017 and everything is awful, and so, too, is Geostorm, a disaster movie without a disaster and an apocalypse flick lacking the apocalypse. In a weekend that also features the debut of the weather-themed catastrophe The Snowman, I’m hard-pressed to tell you which is worse.

Geostorm has a plot, which it takes far too seriously

If you for some reason are concerned about spoilers, just stop. You know what this movie is before it starts. If you doubt me, refer once again to the title.

Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess play brothers named Jake and Max Lawson, a mechanical genius and a bureaucrat of some kind, respectively, who have found themselves in the highest echelons of the corridors of power after the world was narrowly saved from destruction by climate change when all the nations of Earth banded together to figure out how to control the weather via a network of satellites controlled by a central space station everyone calls “Dutchboy.” (Don’t worry, that all happens in the film’s prologue.)

Jim Sturgess in Geostorm
Jim Sturgess in Geostorm.

What might be most baffling is the movie’s apparently sincere belief that we care about Jake and Max’s relationship, or, indeed, anyone’s relationships at all. Give us the geostorm! We came for the geostorm!

Nope. You’ll have to wait. There’s all this plot to slog through first. Max is seeing a Secret Service agent named Sarah (Abbie Cornish), which is technically against the rules, a fact that furnishes 95 percent of their conversations, whether flirtations or pillow talk.

Also, Jake basically built Dutchboy because he is some kind of engineering and mechanical genius, but he is booted off the project a few years later because he insists it needs to be handed over, on schedule, to an international governing body, instead of continuing to be maintained solely by the United States. (This is a film firmly in favor of what’s getting called globalism these days.) Who gets put in charge? Max, of course, who gets promoted way up the ladder in the State Department, as the protégé of Secretary of State Leonard Dekkum (played by a truly embarrassed Ed Harris).

So Jake is mad and living in Florida with his 13-year-old daughter. But a few years later, when the weather control system starts to falter, Max comes knocking. Jake needs to go up into space and save everybody by fixing Dutchboy. And so that is what he does, as the plot grows thick as molasses with complications that include far too many motormouthed technical explanations and a convoluted conspiracy that may go all the way to (gasp) the top, a.k.a. the president (Andy Garcia). It wouldn’t be a save-the-world movie without a president.

If you’re hell-bent on seeing Geostorm, pony up for the 4DX

The fact that most of the country will see Geostorm without the aid of 4DX depresses me greatly. Not that 4DX makes the movie good — this could have been accompanied by free margaritas and puppies to cuddle and it still wouldn’t be a good movie.

But at least 4DX lends an element of novelty to the whole boring endeavor. When would my chair move? (Whenever it damn well pleased, whether it lined up with what was onscreen or not; sometimes I was the camera, sometimes I was in the car, sometimes I was just feeling random rumbles beneath my tush.) When would it emit puffs of air at roughly ear level? (When someone shoots a gun.) When would it spray water at my face? (Whenever waves are coming at me, which happen a lot.) There was also a plume of smoke that occasionally rose near the front of the theater, I hope on purpose, and sometimes lights flashed.

At one point the smell of maple syrup filled the air, but your guess is as good as mine on that one.

A scene from Geostorm
A scene from Geostorm.

Without the novelty of 4DX, this experience would be the absolute pits, though. It’s impossible to stop comparing Geostorm to what it could have been. There is so much material to work with. Space! Hurricanes! Tidal waves! Tornadoes! Action heroes! Dust storms! Highways exploding from beneath the ground because of overheating! How do you mess this up?

Turns out you can! So badly. There is one amazing thing that happens in this movie, and it is when a countdown clock appears onscreen, courtesy of a simulation that determines when the “geostorm” will hit. A countdown clock! At this point, I lost it entirely.

Thing is, the geostorm can’t hit, because this is not that kind of disaster movie. So even though the last 20 minutes or so of the film begins to approach the Disney World level of thrill ride we all paid to see, there is still a truly baffling amount of data and tech specs presented throughout even that sequence. I wish I knew why. In the end, Geostorm pulls off one big, gutsy trick: to make you long for the end of civilization, just so the movie will end.

Geostorm opens in theaters on October 20.

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