Directed by: Gordon Yang
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Nicole de Boer, Greg Evigan, Stephen MacDonald, Frank Schorpion, John Maclaren
I really, truly, deeply wish that I could report how Metal Tornado stunned me with its massive awesomeness… but unfortunately, it’s my duty to be honest and tell you that it’s another example of the predictable mediocrity of made-for-tv disaster movies. It’s by no means the worst the genre has to offer, but no more than just about okay for a slow Sunday afternoon.
And I say that with some sadness, because I liked the idea of a magnetic tornado when I first heard about this film. There are lots of interesting possibilities for large-scale destruction and general nastiness built into the concept of a vortex hurling all kinds of razor sharp items around. There are some scenes where something really gruesome seems about to happen – and then the script takes another, less bloody (and probably cheaper) route. I realize Metal Tornado is intended for television, and made for a moderate budget, but come on, guys! It’s a disaster movie! People are supposed to die. Horribly. On-screen, if possible.
Plot? Oh, right: Lou Diamond Phillips plays an astrophysicist employed by a company, Helios World, that has invented a method for collecting energy from solar flares, thereby solving the world’s energy problems once and for all. Just as the operation is about to go live, an ex-consultant with the company calls the CEO (Greg Evigan) and tells him that there is a dangerous design flaw in the system. Mr. CEO refuses to listen, and sure enough there is an incident during the first download of solar flare energy. Some of the energy escapes and creates a ”rogue magnetic vortex”, that roams around the countryside, gobbling up any metal within range. Lou Diamond Phillips, along with co-worker/girlfriend Nicole de Boer, realizes that Helios World is responsible for what’s going on, but Greg Evigan refuses to investigate – until the magnetic tornado heads for Philadelphia. Cue that service-minded part of the military that’s always eager to lend out some groundbreaking new weapons technology…
It’s the standard TV disaster movie setup with the standard cast of characters, and it’s all pretty much what you expect. Visual effects are mostly decent while the acting is all over the place: Lou Diamond Phillips gives it a good effort, and Greg Evigan portrays the Helios CEO as the greasiest executive I’ve seen for some time, while some of the supporting cast are on the amateurish side. There are no real surprises along the way, but it’s all reasonably competent, particularly compared to some other SyFy offerings.
The major problem with Metal Tornado is that after a promising beginning, the story gets bogged down in a tiresome succession of scenes with people looking at computer screens and talking on the phone, but precious little real action. As I said initially, this film squanders several good opportunities for disaster spectacle and grievous bodily harm. The setups are pretty good: I really liked the scene where a lumberjack starts his chainsaw, which is then pulled out of his grasp by the magnetic vortex and sent hurling through the air – but the guy escapes with a gash in his helmet. Later, the French arm of Helios World creates a vortex that tears Paris apart, but let’s not spend more than seven seconds on that part of the story, because it’s much more urgent to show what happens to a trailer on an empty field in rural Pennsylvania. A waste of potential, I say.
There are certainly some fun moments, but overall I like the concepts and setups more than the actual execution. Still, Metal Tornado is ever so slightly above average for low-budget TV disaster flicks. Primarily for genre fans, and possibly fans of Mr Phillips.