Here is my favorite part of watching The Hurricane Heist: I walked into the theater on Saturday afternoon, and it was packed. I had to go down to the third row and ask the guy on the end to let me sit in the middle. The trailers had already started, and as I wondered at the size of the crowd, I realized I was watching the trailer for… Hurricane Heist.
Confused, I pulled out my ticket and realized I was in the wrong theater. The crowd I was in was there for Black Panther. I had to ask the guy on the end to get up again so I could leave. Hurricane Heist was playing in a theater at the other end of the cinema. There were six people in there when I walked in. I thought, This is more like it.
Here is my second favorite part of watching The Hurricane Heist: The opening, which sees a truck struggling to outrun the leading edge of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In the truck are a dad and his two sons, Will and Breeze, who all have completely different southern accents (dubbed, in the case of the kids). Around them swarms CGI that is about as good as what you see in Twister. By the time the scene plays out and the narrative jumps forward to the present day, the boys’ dad will be dead, scarring them for life. To emphasize this, the house they hide in has its roof ripped off, and an enormous skull in the clouds roars at them. I am not making this up.
The adult versions of Will (Toby Kebbell) and Breeze (Ryan Kwanten) are only component parts of a surprisingly large ensemble cast. The story finds them both in fictional Gulfport, Alabama, where Breeze lives and which Will is visiting for work. Will has become a storm chaser in an armored truck. Breeze runs a garage, where he appears to live with his ’80s console television on the second floor. His character introduction consists of him stirring instant coffee into whiskey with his finger. Tropical Storm Tammy – soon to be Hurricane Tammy – is about to make landfall.
Elsewhere, Casey (Maggie Grace) and Perkins (Ralph Ineson) are feds delivering old U.S. currency to a shredding facility in Gulfport. The facility is managed by Moreno (Christian Contreras), who has brought in a computer team consisting of Frears (Ed Birch) and Sasha (Melissa Bolona) because the shredder has stopped running, causing a backup of money.
It’s not initially clear who the heisters are, but they start coming out of the woodwork when Perkins turns on Casey. Most of the film’s subsequent double-crosses are obvious – if you can’t tell the coat-wearing IT guy and his associate in the one-strap dress are the bad kind of computer people, I’m sorry – but at least one is a genuine surprise. Hurricane Heist has no true core theme, but the actors take the characters’ motivations seriously.
Will ends up trying to help Casey, while Breeze is kidnapped by the bad guys to fix the shredding facility’s generator. Unfortunately, the plot is soup: Everyone keeps running out into the hurricane, then to cover, then back out, and so on. Because the narrative has so many threads to manage, one scene will often end and then cut to another with characters who have moved to a new location since their last sighting, with zero context and minimal framing. It’s exasperating, but never dull.
The thing is, the premise of Hurricane Heist isn’t as dumb as it sounds, or even as dumb as the finished product looks. Heist movies play on the tensions between people who know they can’t trust each other, and nesting one within a disaster movie adds a dimension of chaos that can squeeze those characters further. If the cast was smaller, the pressure might have been applied more effectively.
Character development is accordingly uneven, but a few highlights shine through. In one scene, Will shyly reveals that keeps all his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the week premade in his truck, wrapped in butcher’s paper with the day of the week written on each one. Clement, a goon played by Jamie Andrew Cutler, gets off a really good reading of “GOD DAMN THAT HICK” when Breeze takes too long fixing the backup generator and the power fails. Frears and Sasha are vague Bonnie and Clyde types, but engaging enough that they could have used more screen time. Sasha sounds like Fran Drescher when she’s mad, and that would have a fun skid to steer into.
Only Perkins gets a true character arc. Ineson plays him as if Liam Neeson had gotten Dennis Hopper’s role in Speed. The initial capture of the shredding facility is a comically PG-13 affair, with all the guards shot down with sleep darts. Perkins thinks he can steal $60M without bloodshed. As the movie wears on, and mistakes pile up, he reaches for a darker part of himself to get the job done. Had even a couple more characters gotten that kind of development, The Hurricane Heist might have defied the odds and been unironically good.
But to say this movie is inept would be a disservice to how crazy, at times surreal, it is. Late in the running, Casey enthusiastically suggests to Will that they build a car bomb, and proceeds to tell the audience how Timothy McVeigh did it. Another scene features flagrant product placement for sandwich ingredients. If you somehow get bored, count the number of Dodge Stratuses that get destroyed over the course of the film. I counted three, but I thought I saw a glimpse of a fourth one near the end.
The Hurricane Heist is the sort of movie that won’t be truly discovered until it ends up on DVD somewhere, and is then sharply discounted a couple of times. The DVD in question will probably be a value pack with three other disaster movies – I’m guessing Geostorm, a SyFy Original, and something from the ’70s that wasn’t properly copyrighted. Against that hypothetical lineup, Hurricane Heist is the winner. It isn’t a good movie, but it’s the best kind of bad.