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TWISTER (director: Jan de Bont; screenwriters: Michael Crichton/Anne-Marie Martin; cinematographer: Jack N. Green; editor: Michael Kahn; music: Mark Mancina; cast: Helen Hunt (Jo Harding), Bill Paxton (Bill Harding), Jami Gertz (Melissa), Lois Smith (Aunt Meg), Cary Elwes (Dr. Jonas Miller), Alan Ruck (Rabbit), Jeremy Davies (Laurence), Joey Soltnick (Joey), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Dusty); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kathleen Kennedy/Ian Bryce/Michael Crichton; Warner Bros.; 1996)
“About as much fun as watching a weather report.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the bad weather story written by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. It’s a special effect orientated theme park ride of a movie directed energetically by Jan de Bont (“Speed”) as if he was on speed (which I assume was not so); the film’s star is unquestionably the tornado. The shallow, undeveloped and clichéd narrative didn’t deter it from being one of the year’s top grossing movies at around $493m. The film lifts its romantic melodramatics of the adventurer hero torn between two lovelies from “Only Angels Have Wings.”

Set in Oklahoma in 1994, tornado storm chaser Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) returns to his old crew, a ragtag team of Oklahoma University scientists that includes the eccentric Dusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), with his soon-to-be wife, an out-of-place therapist named Melissa (Jami Gertz). Bill’s there only to get his 30-year-old former scientist wife Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) to sign the divorce papers, as he’s set to take a cushy new job as a weatherman. But the gimmick used to get him to go out with his old crazy crew is that Jo’s too busy to sign the divorce papers and when a tornado strikes he goes out with her on the pretext of getting her to sign the papers. Jo put together four gadgets she names “Dorothy” that through sensors when placed inside a twister’s “suck zone” will provide more info about how tornadoes work and hopefully give a more accurate reading of when a tornado would strike. Jo is a dedicated tornado chaser and the reason why is shown in the exciting opening scene dated as 1969, when as a child she and her mom witness her farmer dad fatally get blown out of their cellar shelter in a tornado as he tried to keep the door shut but is hurled into its vortex still clutching the door. An unneeded subplot is added of an obnoxious rival scientist (Cary Elwes), who sold out to gain corporate sponsors and obtain the best in high-tech equipment (he created a gizmo that is similar to “Dorothy”), trying to make a name for himself by being the first to update new info about tornadoes.

The predictable story and the characters never are made interesting, as all the thrills come from the fast-pace action sequences and all the special effects following the series of tornadoes (all of which were fake studio creations) that strike over a 24-hour period. All the shocks occur because of the worst twisters in many years. But there’s very little suspense and, in my humble opinion, very few shocks. The film was about as much fun as watching a weather report.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”