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Schlock & Awe: METAL TORNADO

Scientifically-caused disaster movies are one of Syfy’s go-to genres, along with giant animal mash-ups (Sharknado and Sharktopus didn’t just imagine themselves). They almost always involve the writers coming up with a sequence of words that sound exciting for the title, and a disaster to go along with that title, and then they crack open high school science books to explain how and why it COULD possibly happen. In fact, they often pull dialogue directly from the science book to kill time in between cries of “Look out!” “Run!” and “Get inside!” Then, they cast some has-beens, take the production to Canada, and shoot the thing over a week and a half with an extra weekend for visual effects. This is the case for Metal Tornado, a movie that brazenly sounds like it should be a Dio best-of. While watching this movie, my building’s gardener decided to mow the grass right outside my window and I didn’t feel the need to turn up the volume. Sometimes you just need to watch garbage, am I right?

Metal Tornado “stars” Lou Diamond Phillips who, since 1999’s Bats, has bravely championed movies like this by being in them. Phillips plays a scientist working for the Helios Project, which is developing a new type of clean energy using electromagnets. Sure. His son (Stephen MacDonald) is a whiz kid who gets into trouble at school and has to spend the day with his father and his father’s new girlfriend (Nicole de Boer). The initial Philadelphia-by-way-of-Vancouver test of the Helios seems to be a success, though Phillips is worried about a two percent energy loss. The company’s CEO (one of My Two Dads and star of B.J. and the Bear Greg Evigan) is eager to get the program going in Helios’ Paris branch (which also looks awfully Canadian) and ignores any misgivings the scientists may have in favor of all that sweet French money he’s gonna make. Phillips thinks what may have happened is they’ve inadvertently created a “rogue magnetic vortex.” You know, the kind of magnetic vortexes that ride motorcycles and play by their own set of rules.

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What are the odds something would have gone wrong? It’s a Syfy movie, so I’d say “quite good.” The excess energy has, for some reason, manifested 15 miles away in the Pennsylvania farmland portion of Canada as a computer generated blue spiral thing. It begins to suck anything made of metal into it until it becomes a giant, whirling helix of metallic destruction. Hey, quick science lesson: did you know that NOT every kind of metal is magnetic? It’s true, only iron, nickel, and cobalt have magnetic properties, and so some alloys don’t produce a magnetic charge at all. Someone must have forgotten to tell the tornado; It doesn’t care what kind of metal things are made of. It also has the ability to make metal objects fly off in one direction, stop in midair, and then fly on again in the other direction. It’s like it doesn’t realize that it breaks all the laws of physics. Make your mind up, Metal Tornado.

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I guess people in Pennsylvania aren’t that smart, because nobody seems to be able to see the 100-foot-high spinning death pinwheel until it’s less than a football field away from them and has already sucked their mobile home, farm equipment, or police cruiser up in to itself. Even Lou Diamond Phillips, a SCIENTIST LOOKING FOR THE METAL TORNADO, is completely oblivious to it until it’s on the road directly in front of him. A bunch of randoms get cut or hit with flying metal implements just to up the body count. One guy gets run over by his own tractor, as it rolls as though self propelled before flying upwards into the funnel. The visual effects are about what you’d expect from a Syfy movie, where objects become immediately cartoony when an effect is about to happen. (“Fuck shading and texture! This has to be finished tomorrow!”). They did get some nice stock footage of the actual Philadelphia and Paris to use for the wide shots of fake-looking destruction, but if you even see one person onscreen, it quickly starts looking like Canada again.

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Eventually, the tornado starts making its way toward downtown Philadelphia as Phillips has to come up with an idea to diffuse the thing. Also, Paris gets destroyed, but really, who needs Paris? Not when Philadelphia is at stake. There are a lot of people talking to each other on cell phones, which is funny because one of the symptoms of the RMV is that it makes cell phone reception spotty at best. I guess not when there’s plot to be discussed. The idea for stopping it comes in the form of flying unmanned drones (plastic ones) armed with missiles that emit the opposite frequency of electromagnetism to diffuse the field. It works. Then millions of tiny shards of metal fall to the ground, but nobody much seems to care about that.

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Metal Tornado just can’t help but exist, especially when there are people who love tornados and love crappy CGI. I often wonder if ideas for movies like these don’t simply travel of their own volition through the ether until they spot a producer or screenwriter and burrow their way into that unsuspecting person’s brain, compelling the host to make the movie in their own image for as tiny a budget and as unbelievably as possible. Ideas can be real a-holes if given the opportunity. Guys, this movie isn’t good and you shouldn’t watch it. But it exists, and so I have reviewed it.

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