TUCSON, Ariz. — The key to a disaster movie is to get the audience to care about the people on which nature is wreaking sour vengeance.
If the characters are so thin that you begin rooting for the disaster, the movie is in as much trouble as a trailer park in a twister.
That's the precarious situation that you find in "13 Minutes," which opens Friday theatrically and on VOD.
Director Lindsay Gossling shows off strong command of impressive effects but little reason to worry about the people scampering for their lives.
Rounding up a cast of late-1990s, early 2000s all-stars — Thora Birch, Amy Smart, Anne Heche, Trace Adkins, and Paz Vega — Gossling sets out to sketch out compelling slices of life in the doomed rural town of Minninnewah.
The camera channel-surfs around from one down-home anecdote to the next.
There's a cranky old rancher whose job description includes scolding his seasonal workers, a well-meaning migrant couple trying to scrape by, a mother who has lost touch with her independent-minded daughter, and that daughter's ill-advised relationship with a secretive older man.
Vignettes are linked together by what starts to seem like the thinnest of threads but gradually forms into a funnel cloud of destruction.
The characters' drab existences translate into audience boredom, making the coming storm of the century seem like sweet salvation rather than dreadful devastation.
So sad and severe is the writing that there's not even a fun, cheesy tone to draw you in.
Once the storm finally ambles over the horizon, it provides all the drama that the pre-storm plot lacks. The characters' longings, jealousies, and resentments are moot amid a cavalcade of violent winds, crumbling drywall, and twisted metal.
Such is the thrust and majesty of the storm — rendered exquisitely in a seamless combination of practical effects and CGI — that it nearly makes up for the lack of dramatic thrust that preceded it.
It turns out that "13 Minutes" is only watchable for about the length described in its title. If it's a disaster you're looking for, you've come to the right place. If it's a disaster movie you're looking for, take cover.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.