Never understood why comparing a movie to a roller-coaster ride was supposed to be a compliment.

Put aside the vertigo, the nausea - or the temptation to rip away the safety bar and fly off into the blue yonder - and it's like all theme-park rides: empty, meaningless, forgettable.

Which brings us to Into the Storm.

Hollywood's latest entry in that tried-and-true genre, the disaster movie, is . . . well, it's like . . . a totally gnarly roller-coaster ride!

Entirely void of human significance, yet awesomely pretty, the $50 million actioner features gigabytes ( tetrabytes? ) of computer-generated images in the lead role as a gigantanormous family of tornadoes that sets upon and crushes an idyllic small town in the Midwest - even though it never manages to crush the indomitable spirit and know-how of the fine American folk who reside there.

The tornadoes, each bigger, meaner, and angrier than the last, encounter several groups of people whose heroic stories pass for the movie's plot.

In a gimmick that adds some urgency and tension to the proceedings, each tale is told through found footage. Even as they're running for their lives, everyone in this town has a digital camera and is obsessed with filming the storm.

English actor Richard Armitage (MI-5, The Impressionists) plays high school vice principal Gary Morris, a square-jawed, emotionally remote widower and single father of two who has volunteered his teenage sons, Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter) and Trey (Nathan Kress), to film the day's big event, the high school graduation ceremony.

Jacob ditches the gig to help Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a gal he has loved from a distance for years, film a documentary about pollution at an abandoned industrial park at the town's edge.

When the storm hits, boy and girl - and their ever-intensifying erotic tension - are trapped in a small hole under hundreds of pounds of metal and concrete.

Dad to the rescue!

Meanwhile, a team of stormchasers speeds into town, led by documentarian and reality star Pete (comedian Matt Walsh), comely meteorologist Allison (The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies), and their camera crew.

Pete is at the helm of a tank-like vehicle he intends to place under a tornado, right inside the eye. Will he and his crew help the town, or just film it?

Directed by Steven Quale (Final Destination 5), Into the Storm has some seriously impressive, wicked special effects. Its rapid pace and thundering sound effects quite effectively ram you, wide-eyed, jaw agape, against your seat back.

It has nothing else.

Into the Storm *1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Steven Quale. With Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 1 hour, 29 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (sequences of intense destruction and peril, language, some sexual references).

Playing at: area theaters.