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When watching a disaster-thriller hybrid such as The Hurricane Heist, you can almost hear the bro-tastic Hollywood pitch sessions that spawned this kind of high-concept enterprise: “It’s Heat meets Twister!” “The Bank Job meets The Perfect Storm!” “Fast Five, but it’s set during Katrina!” “It’s Sharknado, but instead of sharks, there’s $600 million in cash and a bunch of actors speaking with questionable Southern accents!”
The latter probably comes closest to describing action veteran Rob Cohen’s dumb and mildly fun mashup, which has the xXx and The Fast and the Furious director doing what he does best: making people, cars and various inanimate objects come crashing together at extremely high velocities. What he doesn’t do very well is concoct a good story or create characters that resemble real people, which is why Heist can also be a bit of a chore.
Still, you’ve got to give Cohen some credit for staging an entire movie against a backdrop of torrential rain and 150 mph winds, although he should have invested more in a good script and less in all the computer-generated pressure systems. Released in France a few weeks before its U.S. rollout, Heist won’t score big at the box office, though it may attract viewers who prefer to see their B-movies on the big screen rather than on the cinematic dumping ground that has become Netflix.
Written by Scott Windhauser and Jeff Dixon, from a story by Anthony J. Fingleton and Carlos Davis, Heist kicks off with a traumatic incident that takes place in 1992, in which two young Alabama brothers see their father crushed to death by a water tower during Hurricane Andrew. It’s an event that will haunt them for the rest of their lives — and just in case you didn’t get that, at the end of the scene Cohen has a cluster of ominous storm clouds digitally morph into a giant screaming skull.
25 years later, Dixie boys Will (British actor Toby Kebbell) and Breeze (Australian actor Ryan Kwanten) have grown up to become polar opposites. Will went to school and turned into a daredevil weather expert (he has a “Ph.D. in synoptic meteorology”), while Breeze has blossomed into a whiskey-guzzling womanizer who has taken over his dad’s towing business. But when another superstorm (named Tammy) descends on their fictional town of Gulfport, threatening to tear it apart, both of them will be put on the same righteous path.
That’s one plotline. The other entails the robbery of $600 million in greenbacks from a U.S. Treasury facility located just outside city limits. How that happens requires a suspension of disbelief about as powerful as Hurricane Sandy. To simplify things, let’s just say the crime involves a pair of seriously goofy computer hackers (Ed Birch, Melissa Bolona); a cellphone tower; machine guns that shoot poisoned darts; an industrial paper shredder; and a crooked, shotgun-wielding sheriff (Ben Cross) — although everything actually hinges, for some reason, on a broken backup power generator.
The heist is masterminded by corrupt Treasury employee Perkins (Ralph Ineson), who seems to have intricately thought out every single step — including bringing a change of clothes so he can slip into a villainy overcoat about halfway through the movie — yet somehow manages to lose track of the one person who can thwart his plans: fellow agent Casey (Maggie Grace, playing things straight), who will eventually team up with Will to try and save the day.
As the characters converge and the tempest takes over, Cohen delivers a few gonzo set pieces, most memorably a face-off at the center of town where rip-roaring winds turn a pile of hubcaps into weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, Casey and Will seem to have an awful lot of time to drive around and recite their traumatic backstories (how big, exactly, is Gulfport?), though whatever sparks fly between them are quickly put out when the levee breaks and the whole shebang gets flooded over.
In the last act, over-the-top digital effects blow away any vague remnant of verisimilitude that Heist tried to establish, with a closing chase sequence that has the hurricane surrounding our heroes like the Jell-O molded Red Sea in Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments. There’s a point in many movies where the CGI crosses the credibility line and there’s no turning back. In The Hurricane Heist, that pretty much happens in the first scene, but the finale is just too ridiculous to swallow.
Tech credits are nonetheless accomplished for a purported $35 million budget, with locations in Bulgaria doing a decent job standing in for parts of coastal Alabama. Dialogue tends toward the eye-rolling variety and performances feel uneven across the board, with the actors using a menagerie of accents, including some dubious Deep South ones, as they shout above all the pounding rain and thunder.
Production companies: Signature Pictures, RSVP Entertainment, Foresight Unlimited
Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Cast: Maggie Grace, Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten, Ralph Ineson, Melissa Bolona, James Cutler, Ben Cross
Director: Rob Cohen
Screenwriters: Scott Windhauser, Jeff Dixon, from a story by Anthony J. Fingleton, Carlos Davis
Producers: Karen Baldwin, William J. Immerman, Michael Tadross Jr., Danny Roth, Damiano Tucci, Rob Cohen, Mark Damon, Christopher Milburn, Moshe Diamant
Executive producers: Byron Allen, Carolyn Folks, Jennifer Lucas, Terence Hill, Mark Borde, Chris Charalambous, Mark DeVitre, Carlos Davis, Anthony Fingleton, Alastair Burlingham, Charlie Dombek, Tamara Birkemoe, Jenna Sanz-Agero, Christopher Conover, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Namit Malhotra, Greg Gavanski, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Kes Bonnet
Costume designer: Irina Kotcheva
Editor: Niven Howie
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Casting directors: Nancy Foy, Kate Dowd
Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
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