This represents the movie fan’s equivalent of a shower and a body-scrub. From the sordid, sexist, cheap world of “Witchcraft”, we emerge back into the warm embrace of the SyFy Channel, where people stay fully clothed, scenes are well-lit and most of the cast has acted before. “The Vortex” stars one of our favourite B-movie actresses, Sarah Lieving; and it’s something of a bold move for them, as it’s kind of a comedy. Whether the comedy is actually good, and whether all the rest of it is good too…well, I’ll tell you in a paragraph or two. Don’t worry.
A group of army guys, along with their crazy Bruce Dern lookalike scientist guy Gerber, are exploring the sandy wastes of (UNSPECIFIED MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRY), waiting outside a cave. Looks like top military brass is bored of their experiments and is calling them home; as they’re packing up, though, someone picks up a reading and suddenly everyone’s excited again. Well, apart from the guy stood up on a nearby ridge having the world’s longest pee – seeing him accidentally soak the boots of his commanding officer as he turns round is perhaps not the strongest comedic start this movie could make.
Anyway, giant monsters! Although the editing and angles are confusing, they’ve apparently discovered a “vortex”, which either allows giant creatures from another dimension through, or sends weird yellow crystals which mutates earth animals to enormous size. It’s probably the crystal thing. Anyway, group 1 gets wiped the hell out (well, the scientist guy manages to hide), including a sandstorm of such viciousness that it strips the skin and flesh from their bones in seconds. This “goodbye group 1, the real stars are group 2” is a well-worn SyFy trope (last seen in the rather decent “Ice Road Terror”) so…everything looks good so far.
After that great urine joke, the comedy really kicks in when we’re introduced to William Marx (Jack Plotnick), a former Army scientist guy who also worked on the Vortex ideas with Gerber. He’s every wisecracking anti-authority genius you’ve ever seen, and the slowly dawning realisation he’s going to be like this for the whole rest of the movie is tough to get through. Luckily, the rest of the army group who are going to the site of the Vortex with him are a much more reasonable lot, led by Deckert (Lieving) and Raiger (Ted “not one of the famous Jonas brothers” Jonas). They’re packed with stereotypes, but relatable nice ones, and off they all go to save the Earth. Oh yes, the Vortex could eventually swallow the earth, for some reason.
A brief aside to talk sky-diving. The team are going to do a “Halo dive”, which they tell us is to open the parachute as low as possible, to avoid getting spotted by enemy radar. They spend a fair chunk of time on this, so when we see what is presumably stock footage of people jumping out of planes and their ‘chutes immediately opening, the thought “could they not find footage of people doing the thing they’ve just described?” wanders through your brain.
After their first encounter with the giant creatures, which is pretty well done (they try their best to hide the cheap giant spider effect), they hit the brakes, and hard. We’ve had lulls in SyFy films before, quite a lot of them in fact, but none have been quite as incident-free as this one. The entirety of act 2 and most of act 3 could have been done in 5 minutes, as it involves a complete filler battle with some locals (aka the tannedest extras they could find), hanging out near a tank and walking, lots of walking.
The final battle, with two giant talking snakes, is pretty cool but, considering the holding pattern that was the previous 40 minutes of the movie, it could have stood to be a little longer. Quite a lot of the important stuff – like why the vortex was there and what it was doing – was undercooked too. I wonder if they ran out of time or money or something – the film looks okay, Lieving does a decent job with what isn’t the most demanding material in the world…but, if it were funnier, I’d be able to forgive it a lot. The one decent relationship is between Marx and Raiger, a meeting of opposites which produces some decent comic sparks, but everything else falls flat as a pancake. It’s like that one friend of yours who got a huge laugh with a joke once and is now convinced he’s the second coming of George Carlin (that person in my group of friends is probably me, sadly).
I appreciate SyFy more now, and the solid entertainment they provide. They may not always be good (and this certainly isn’t) but there’s a level, and compared to the miserable crap we’ve suffered through recently, it’s a perfectly respectable level.
Rating: thumbs in the middle