Twister (1996)

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Directed by: Jan de Bont
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jami Gertz, Lois Smith, Cary Elwes

You wouldn’t know it from looking at her, but Helen Hunt is one of the densest objects on Earth. She’s so heavy, not even an F5 tornado, capable of hurling trucks around like confetti, can lift her off the ground. At least that’s my conclusion after watching Twister, where Helen and co-star Bill Paxton more than once remain firmly grounded while vehicles and buildings in their immediate vicinity are torn apart or whisked away into the air.

Plotwise, Twister is about as predictable a movie as I’ve seen. The two main characters are Jo and Bill Harding (Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton), a couple of stormchasers who are also man and wife but are now about to finalize their divorce. Together, they have invented a contraption (cleverly named Dorothy) to insert airborne sensors into tornadoes to measure what happens inside them. Bill, with his new woman in tow, visits Jo to get the divorce papers signed. While there, the recieve word that a storm system is forming nearby. Jo and her team hit the road, and of course Bill and his wife-to-be tag along. They encounter a series of tornadoes. Bill and Helen get back together. End of film.

It seems that even the screenwriters (one of them being Michael Crichton, of Jurassic Park fame, who must have had an off day) felt this was a bit too thin. Consequently, they inserted a subplot featuring a rival team of evil stormchasers, headed by Cary Elwes, who have stolen the ‘Dorothy’ idea. We know they are bad because they have expensive equipment and drive around in a convoy of black SUVs. After the first 30 minutes the disappear from the film, only showing up again at the end in order to get killed. Disappointingly, they are the only casualties in this film.

Twister serves up some quite nice tornado sequences, and most look very good even though the CGI sometimes reveals its age, so to speak. There’s fun to be had as the increasingly violent tornadoes hurl everything from cows and farming equipment to tank trucks and even houses at our heroes. Some of the action set pieces are borderline ludicrous — e.g. as Bill and Jo have to swerve across the road while tractors and assorted farming machines rain from the sky — but that’s fine with me.

What’s not fine, and what more than anything else detracts from my enjoyment of the movie, is the painfully bad dialogue and the embarrassing attempts at comedy. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, but not even he can make me like the over-caffeinated sidekick he plays here. As for character development, this one is shallow even for a disaster movie.

So, we have loud and ridiculous action, cringeworthy banter, a band of merry maverick heroes —  Twister sometimes feels like the Armageddon of tornado movies, but the standard and amount of tornado action motivates a higher rating.

Rating: 3/5

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