If Barton Fink was lured to Hollywood in 2018, The Hurricane Heist is the sort of movie he’d be asked to write. It’s a formulaic action caper with empathetic-enough leads facing an impossible task, and a high-concept plot device to help audiences overlook the fact that nothing ever really makes sense.
The Hurricane Heist even has a bit of that Fink feeling. When the plucky heroes – a regretful but determined Treasury agent played by Maggie Grace and a regretful but kind meteorologist played by Toby Kebbell – hit the mid-movie exposition break, they chat while each discreetly luxuriating in a pee break beneath the local mall.
Characters in movies like this never get that bathroom break, and we should pause to acknowledge the generosity of director Rob Cohen and the four credited writers (Carlos Davis and Anthony Fingleton, story, and Jeff Dixon and Scott Windhauser, screenplay) for allowing that moment. The movie has a few more bits like that, where glimpses of life are squeezed like caulk into the gaps between setpiece tiles.
Otherwise, there’s little room in this blustery adventure to do anything that looks human. Will (Kebbel) and his resentful brother Breeze (Ryan Kwanten) lost their father in a hurricane and have never reconciled over things said at the time. Will grew up into a meteorologist who drives a storm-proof vehicle he calls “the Dominator” and takes calls from the National Weather Service the way I imagine a top-notch assassin would accept a mission to put a bullet in a foreign dictator. Breeze, a former Marine, is now a boozy mechanic in their coastal hometown.
Maggie Grace’s Casey once made a fatal mistake in the field, so the resourceful and somewhat abrasive agent was posted to an out of way Alabama office. The place is the end of the line for old dollar bills; there’s almost (but not quite) a metaphor there. Enter the heist crew, which has eyes on $600 million worth of greasy bills ready to be shredded. It’s basically a victimless crime.
The heist goes down just as a massive storm sweeps into town, setting the stage for moments where cars are constantly overturning in the background and hubcaps become instruments of death. Why is a giant net bag of hubcaps just hanging around? Maybe don’t ask. Action sequences in the storm are good fun, a fast-paced bunch of hokum with likable leads and decently-crafted combinations of effects and stunts.
Rob Cohen and his team often capture the hurricane with believable detail – OK, “believable” is a stretch, but at least convincing in context. As the storm batters this small town, a sense of immediacy comes through in enough sequences to make The Hurricane Heist immersive. When chunks of story occasionally seem to have been carried off in the wind, it doesn’t much matter. We get the idea.
It helps that the movie is on the verge of being self-aware. Toby Kebbell’s character visualizes giant grinning skulls in storm clouds as they bear down on him. When two bad guys argue personal history as a device to explain some backstory, one chides the other. “Why are you telling me this? I was there!” Ryan Kwanten’s character is named Breeze. Someone gets it.
But this is also a movie where hackers working for the bad guys show up at an Alabama treasury outpost dressed for a mid-level poker tournament at the Rio in Vegas, and where Ralph Ineson from The Witch, as the heist leader, delivers every other line like he’s workshopping a WWE skit. It’s hard to tell if there’s a plan to all the conflicting impulses, or if the plan was just to throw ideas into the wind and they all ended up sticking.
Any facade drops in the final act, when the villains mount an escape in the eye of the storm. Kebbell points out, more than once, that the eye can look like a warm day. Maybe that explains why there are dry leaves everywhere, and a landscape ready for a pleasant walk. Didn’t a storm just rampage through here? Oh, there it is, lurking in the background as a giant CG wall.
Any self-awareness is whisked away in a sequence that, in ten dizzyingly stupid minutes, crushes any goodwill built up in the prior hour. Rob Cohen kicked off Universal’s Fast and Furious franchise with his 2001 movie, and The Hurricane Heist finale plays like a bid to get back into the fold. If so it’s a bad gamble, and a mistake that leaves this movie feeling like a minor squall.