Firenado is a film that, with its committed cast and suitably bonkers premise, should be funnier, wilder and more enjoyable than it unfortunately ends up being.
A film in which an extreme weather phenomenon and a mob heist battle for screentime is a fairly unique concept, but that’s exactly the undertaking of Scott Jeffrey and Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s Firenado. It’s a film where logic scatters to the wind and disbelief is to be extended to the highest degree. But while its premise is rife with comedic potential, the film itself feels a bit too silly, a bit ramshackle and like it can’t decide whether to take itself seriously or not.
Anna (Sian Altman), Helena (Nicola Wright) and Devlin (Toby Wynn-Davies) are meteorologists who have developed the technology to literally control tornadoes. When it malfunctions during their initial test, it morphs a small twister into a giant force that wreaks havoc over the ‘Texan’ countryside. And to make matters worse, an unfortunate run-in with a petrol station causes the twister to catch fire and become a mutant ‘Firenado’. Meanwhile, Pierce (Dan Godfrey) is an accountant for some pretty shady people, living in a rural house and storing a lot of loose cash in his safe. Rival gangster Lyle (Jamie Robertson), along with his two hapless henchmen Tommy (Matthew Marcelis) and Nate (Clint Gordon), makes a plan to rob it under the cover of the tornado warning for ‘plausible deniability’, but soon finds himself in the path of a weather phenomenon much greater than he’d expected.
It feels a little trite to compare Firenado to Anthony C. Ferrante’s Sharknado films, the made-for TV comedy disaster series in which there are an inexplicable six entries. And it seems as though comparisons were obvious from the very beginning, which is perhaps why Firenado writer Craig McLearie added in the film’s subplot involving gangsters, dodgy accountants and perhaps the most inept heist committed to film in recent years. It’s a bizarre decision that doesn’t pay off because it’s neither as interesting nor as funny as the tornado-on-fire roaming through the glens stuff. It just feels unnecessary, riddled with cliché dialogue and wooden performances.
It also ties in with the second biggest gripe of the film: its geography. Characters do the bare minimum in attempting to sell the fact that we’re supposedly in the US – half-hearted American accents, referring to ‘gas’ stations, towns with names like Jefferson and ‘zip codes’ – but there’s little hiding the fact that the film was filmed in the UK. The cars are all left-hand drive, with UK issue number plates, and the scenery seems very reminiscent of places like Glen Coe in Scotland with lush rolling green hills, something Texas doesn’t feel particularly famous for. Add in the fact that there’s a distinct Scottish lilt to a lot of the supporting characters and the mobsters are very much from South London, complete with lines of dialogue like “Shut up you tart”, and it starts to feel a little bit messy.
There are also moments wherein the editing choices are completely jarring. Characters are driving along an idyllic section of road, with nary another car in sight and beautiful blue skies, and then a sudden cut to a close up shows the firenado almost directly ahead. With no wind effects or need for characters to even raise their voice against the literal howling gale – that’s also on fire – heading their way, it all feels a bit silly. And not in a fun way. It feels sloppy, like Jeffrey and Frake-Waterfield were more concerned with the idea of the film and not the execution, because, even with a film like the aforementioned Sharknado, there’s a sense of it being intentionally funny and a bit mad. But with Firenado, it just feels like a failed experiment and that the filmmakers ran out of steam halfway through. The ending is so abrupt, there’s little to no talk of the devastating consequences a force five tornado – that, once again, is on fire – will have on the area, and the entire mob heist section has literally zero relevance to the rest of the plot.
Firenado feels like a film that wants to be seen as farcical, as a funny take on the (un)natural disaster movie trope that throws in some unexpected man-made tension to boot. But instead, it just feels a bit haphazard and lethargic, despite a surprisingly committed, if not particularly convincing, cast. It doesn’t have the humour – past the initial laughter of surprise that, yes, this is actually happening – nor does it have a likeable cast of characters that inspire a willingness to root for their endeavours. It’s a film that could have been more fun, more silly and more enjoyable, and instead it all just falls a bit flat.
Firenado will be released on digital in the US on January 3, 2023, and on DVD on February 14.