Twister (1996)

14 May

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Twister” is one of those movies that inspire the question, “When you really get down to it, what’s the point?” This is a blockbuster that just feels like an excuse to showcase some high-quality special effects, and market the hell out of them so that the film will become a hit at the box-office. That’s it—that’s the main purpose I think was in mind when “Twister” was greenlit. This isn’t a disaster movie by most means. The characters aren’t in danger (for the most part, anyway); they’re just scientists studying the “mystery” of tornadoes and racing to get a machine inside one. There’s a romance in an attempt to try and tell some sort of human-interest story, but it just feels like filler until the next tornado effect arrives. And there’s a villain because…Lord knows a massive twister isn’t enough?

Now, to be fair, this is disposable entertainment. It’s energetic enough. The actors are game for the material. And yes, the effects are first-rate. This is a terrific film to look at and admire the technique. The tornadoes look incredible—they’re huge, loud, forceful, fierce, and amazing. And there’s even some room for special effects as humor, such as when a cow is sucked away by the tornado and the characters think another has passed when it’s actually the same one.

It’s obvious that “Twister” doesn’t care much for character, dialogue, or such to make for dramatic situations. And I wouldn’t mind so much, except that I didn’t really find it as witty or as energetic as it would like me to see it as, and thus I ask the question of what’s the point?

OK, fine. I know the point by now. It’s all about showcasing the new effects at the time.

The plot, such as it is, involves a team of tornado chasers, led by Jo (Helen Hunt). She is obsessed finding out the secret of the phenomenon ever since a twister took her father away years ago. Her team’s mission is to try out “Dorothy,” a machine designed to deliver data from inside the vortex. And thankfully, this is the time of one of the big series of storms, so they have to follow tornado among tornado until they reach “the finger of God.” Accompanying her is her ex-husband, Bill (Bill Paxton), and accompanying him is his fiancée, Melissa (Jami Gertz). The rest of the team is mostly forgettable, except for a zany comic relief played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Like I said, there is a villain here because apparently, Mother Nature isn’t enough of a villain here. So we have the slick, slimy Jonas (Cary Elwes), a rival scientist who has his own version of “Dorothy” to attempt with his own team. And yes, this means both tornado-chaser groups are competing against each other, trying to get to each storm first. It’s like tornado-hunting is an aggressive sport now or something.

“Superfluous” is not merely the right word to describe the character of Jonas. He’s not only unnecessary; he’s just annoying. (Cary Elwes’ *bleep*-eating grin and hokey Southern accent doesn’t help much either.) Apparently, Jonas used to be part of Jo and Bill’s team until he went solo and got corporate. Insert product-plug here, I guess.

The plot is completely artificial. Also superfluous is the subplot involving the rebuilding relationship between Jo and Bill. You can easily tell from their first meeting in this movie that they’re going to be back together and Melissa will get the shaft (though not the vortex, thankfully). They banter, they share moments, they catch up on certain topics of conversation, etc. Even though Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt are appealing performers, they’re not able to keep this subplot interesting enough. And Melissa is pretty much just a plot device to keep it going, unfortunately.

Mainly, “Twister” is disposable entertainment that you get into for the effects or don’t get into because there isn’t much else. I don’t hate this movie—the effects are fantastic and there are some effective moments of action and tension. But if it didn’t need a substantial plot, it at least needed enough wit to win me over and keep me invested. It didn’t, so I guess it didn’t work for me because of that. It’s not something I’ll be watching again anytime soon.

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