Night of the Twisters (1996)

John Schneider in Night of the Twisters.

Directed by: Timothy Bond
Starring: Devon Sawa, John Schneider, Amos Crawley, Lori Haller, Helen Hughes

Basically your average wholesome family-oriented disaster film, Night of the Twisters scores an extra point or two for delivering some pretty nice special effects sequences, involving big-scale sets and a whole lot of throwing stuff around. Apart from that, there really isn’t too much to say about this one.

The plot revolves around the Hatch family working out their differences and becoming closer, thanks to the series of vicious tornadoes that ravage their hometown of Blainsworth, Nebraska. We primarily follow teenager Dan (Devon Sawa), who has a complicated relation to his stepdad Jack (John Schneider), an ex-quarterback who frankly is an overbearing asshole. Basically from the moment he appeared, I wished he would get sucked up into the sky by a twister, but alas – no such luck.

Dan and his friend Arthur (Amos Crawley) hang out at Dan’s house, accidentally break a couple of things and try to cover up the accidents to avoid Jack’s wrath. Luckily, the first tornado strikes before Jack has discovered their misdeeds, and completely wrecks the Hatch family house. Jack has left to pick Dan’s mom Laura (Lori Haller) up from the restaurant she works at (named The Salty Dawg, if I remember correctly). That leaves Dan and Arthur to rescue Dan’s baby brother and themselves from the ruins, and set off into the night to try and find their loved ones.

Meanwhile, Jack never got to the restaurant but is trapped beneath his truck. Dan finds him and gets help. Me, I kind of hoped the truck would fall over and crush him before they got him out. Again – no such luck. After having his dislocated shoulder pulled back into place, Jack goes looking for Laura, who is out looking for Jack. The whole family is reunited outside the heap of debris that used to be The Salty Dawg. At the exact moment I looked at the clock and wondered what they were going to do with the remaining ten minutes of running time, another twister jumps out from nowhere and chases Our Heroes down the highway, finally giving up as they take shelter below a road overpass. Jack grudgingly tells Dan that he’s proud of him. The heartwarming end.

So no, the screenplay won’t win any awards for originality nor subtility. But I found the main tornado scenes to be pretty entertaining, particularly the one tearing the Hatch house to pieces. I may be a bit old-fashioned, but I often find well-made mechanical effects more compelling than their digital counterparts, for the simple reason that I’m watching actual stuff breaking up. That doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to digital effects, but bad CGI is sadder to see than bad physical effects. Speaking of CGI, the digital twisters are rather low-end.

There are one or two tacked-on subplots that are introduced and then ignored, and the pacing is a bit uneven, with the story stalling as we get to all the touchy-feely stuff during the final half hour. It’s a bit too soppy for my personal taste. On the other hand, there are a few funny details to savour – like the family who above all worries about their chickens as a massive twister bears down on their farm, or the way that Dan (repeatedly!) seems to think that he doesn’t need to check on his baby brother, left alone in his upstairs room, as long as the faraway warning sirens stay silent. Apparently the fact that the whole house is shaking from the force of the approaching tornado isn’t enough…

Slightly above average for this kind of made-for-tv fare. But only slightly.

Rating: 2/5

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