Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The disaster-slash-chase flick The Hurricane Heist is more of a mild breeze

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Rob Cohen, the director behind such early 2000s guilty pleasures as The Skulls, The Fast And The Furious, and xXx, delivers a credible throwback to the mid-budget action-thriller programmers of his heyday with The Hurricane Heist—but though his widescreen competence has aged well (it almost seems classical now), the wind-machine-assisted B-movie thrills are few and far between. A workmanlike cross between a disaster movie and a caper-chase flick (complete with a climactic 18-wheeler duel on an endless stretch of straight road that wouldn’t be out of place in the more recent Fasts and Furiouses), the film never rises to the promise of its awesomely literal title. The stakes are as soggy as the scenery.

Adopting an unlikely Gulf Coast drawl, the English actor Toby Kebbell stars as Dr. Will Rutledge, a good ol’ boy meteorologist for the National Weather Service who’s been obsessed with storms ever since Hurricane Andrew crushed his football-loving, tow-truck-driving dad under a silo. After his warnings about an approaching tropical cyclone of apocalyptic proportions fall on deaf ears (don’t they always?), Will hops in his super-charged, Batmobile-like storm chaser and heads into his hometown of Gulfport, Alabama to talk his semi-estranged brother, Breeze (Ryan Kwanten), into boarding up the family tow business and getting the heck out.

As it turns out, Breeze—a hard-drinking Afghanistan-veteran-and-ex-quarterback type—is just about the only person left in Gulfport. Sick of watching truckloads of money roll through their podunk community on the way to a nearby U.S. Treasury shredding facility, corrupt local lawmen have struck a deal with a team of high-tech thieves to rob the feds, using the hurricane as cover. (For those keeping track, this is the second federal shredder caper this year, after the enjoyable Michael Mann knockoff Den Of Thieves.) With $600 million piled up in the vault because of a sabotaged shredding machine and the guards taken care of (knocked out with tranquilizer darts, because the plan is “zero casualties”), the crew is already halfway to being filthy rich. All they have to do is load up and haul out through the empty streets of Gulfport.

But there’s a hiccup in the plan: Casey (Maggie Grace), the federal agent in charge of something or other, has reset the vault codes before driving into town to find Breeze; in addition to towing and fixing cars, he is also in charge of fixing the treasury complex’s backup generators. Maybe the reason there are no jobs in Gulfport is because they’ve all been snatched up by the same guy. The premise is topical enough to qualify as some kind of half-baked, red-state-baiting Clintonite-centrist revenge fantasy: A bunch of resentful blue-collar small-town hicks make a devil’s bargain with crooks who only want to steal the government’s money, and get their asses handed to them by competent federal employees and climate science.

Yet keeping track of plot points and characters doesn’t seem to be a major concern for Cohen. Although he played up the campiness of his last film, The Boy Next Door (another throwback, in this case to ’90s erotic thrillers), he isn’t enough of a B-movie maestro to embrace the elemental potential of The Hurricane Heist’s flooding, deafening, wreckage-churning Category 5 backdrop. Apart from a macabre sequence in which Will dispatches goons by flinging hubcaps into the wind like giant shuriken (this is one of those rare films in which the good guys do most of the killing) and a showdown in an evacuated shopping mall that’s directed as a series of arty symmetrical compositions, his interest seems to be in weightlessly moving cars. His straightforward take on vehicular mayhem is fun in measured doses. But by the end, the viewer finds themselves waiting for it to pass.