Critics' Corner

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "The hackneyed chatter and half-baked personal histories are enough to make you scream into the wind."


Rita Kempley - Style section, "The characters exist merely to ... kill time between tornadoes."


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"Twister" grossed $41.1 million in its opening weekend.




'Twister': Full of Wind

Scene from this movie Set in Oklahoma's Tornado Alley, "Twister" catches up with gutsy storm chaser Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) and her husband and former partner, Bill (Bill Paxton). Once the most formidable atmospheric attack team in all of Tornadodom, the couple are on the brink of divorce when a series of increasingly gargantuan cyclones plays Cupid.

Harding and her team of university scientists attempt to to reach the "suck zone," plop a bucket (named Dorothy) full of sensors into the storm's path, then back up really fast.

An evil corporate team has ripped off Bill's invention - Dorothy - and joins the chase. -- Rita Kempley Rated PG-13


Director: Jan De Bont
Cast: Helen Hunt; Bill Paxton; Cary Elwes; Jami Gertz; Lois Smith
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Filmographies: Helen Hunt; Bill Paxton; Jami Gertz






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'Twister': Special Effects and Hot Air

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 10, 1996

Technically, the summer movie season begins on Memorial Day weekend. But "Twister," a sort of military-industrial-complex collaboration between the makers of "Speed" and "Jurassic Park," has already broken out of the gate.

The movie, whose soaring, spiraling special effects were engineered by George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, is a technical wonder, of course. We're talking breathtaking cyclones that wreak massive destruction and send hapless cows and gasoline tanker-trucks flying across the screen.

But "Twister," written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin (his wife), sucks the wind out of the "Jurassic Park" formula. The difference between Tyrannosaurus rexes towering overhead and ominous tornadoes is-for the filmmakers-just a matter of form. And the characters-a robotic collection of gung-ho weather-disaster scientists-seem to be made themselves of computer circuitry.

In summer movies, it seems, three-dimensional characters amount to unwanted wind resistance.

Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) chases down his wife and fellow-meteorologist Jo (Helen Hunt) to sign their divorce papers just as she and the old gang of wind-jock scientists are about to enjoy the best storm day of the century.

Oklahoma is soon to be visited by a barrage of twisters, and this is the scientists' chance to test "Dorothy," a gizmo that-when launched directly into one of the tornadoes-could provide valuable scientific data. By learning more about the internal makeup of tornadoes-and here's the movie's moral yada-yada part-scientists will be able to detect storms sooner.

Bill, who's engaged to Melissa (Jami Gertz), a sweet-natured "reproductive therapist" (a sort of yuppie-bimbo), wants out of the wind-chasing business. But it doesn't take long for him to smell the thrill of the chase. Dorothy was his and Jo's baby, after all. Furthermore, a rival group of corporately funded (hissss!) scientists, led by Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), has copied the Dorothy model and wants to beat Jo and her ragtag buddies at their own game.

Before too long, Bill's riding again with the storm jocks, while the storm-phobic Melissa tags meekly behind. You needn't have seen "His Girl Friday" to know exactly where this story's going.

Basically, the unbearably jocular characters spend the movie rushing from one special-effects scene to another. (Some sample dialogue: "It's coming! It's headed right for us!" Or, "Did you see that explosion?") It's just as well. The scenes of destruction-apart from being great to watch-provide much-needed relief from these people's unidimensional banalities.

Jo, for example, has a convenient little childhood tragedy that "explains" why she chases tornadoes with such obsession. Bill's problem, we're given to understand, is that he can't complete anything. This clears up why he left Jo and why he needs to launch Dorothy (named, of course, after the character in "The Wizard of Oz"). The hackneyed chatter and half-baked personal histories are enough to make you scream into the wind. But if you're in the mood for awesome weather patterns, this is the place to sit back and watch the skies open up. Besides, there's always the subversive possibility that one of those whirling twisters will suck Dorothy and her creators into the vortex.

TWISTER (PG-13) - Contains profanity, major thermal violence and actors impersonating real people.

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'Twister': Wait Till It Blows Over

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 10, 1996

"Twister" not only blows, it sucks, too. It also huffs and it puffs, blusters, gusts and wails. I haven't seen this much wind since "Blazing Saddles." But that, Toto, is the nature of the tornado-a predatory, prairie-bred weather beast that hoovers up the landscape like God's own vacuum cleaner. Cows, cornfields, tanker trucks, recreational vehicles, outbuildings and tractors-get in its path and you're dust.

Set in Oklahoma's Tornado Alley, "Twister" catches up with gutsy storm chaser Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) and her husband and former partner, Bill (Bill Paxton). Once the most formidable atmospheric attack team in all of Tornadodom, the couple are on the brink of divorce when a series of increasingly gargantuan cyclones plays Cupid. Not that their romance much matters.

"Twister" is about the men behind the curtain. The special-effects artists cannot be ignored, for this is their show. Like the more entertaining "Jurassic Park," it's a triumph of technology over storytelling and the actors' craft. Characters exist merely to tell a couple of jokes, cower in fear of downdrafts and otherwise kill time between tornadoes.

Though these range in size from an F2 (Super Glue the toupee) to an F5 ("the finger of God"), they look, sound and act basically alike. The same goes for Jo Harding and her funky team of university scientists. They keep leaping into their ramshackle caravan of buses, trucks and such to zoom after the things. The point: to reach the "suck zone," plop a bucket (named Dorothy) full of sensors into the storm's path, then back up really fast.

In an attempt to add a bit of human interest, writers Michael Crichton and the missus, Anne-Marie Martin, pit the plucky techno-nerds against an evil corporate team. These fiends have not only ripped off Bill's invention-the aforementioned Dorothy-but as if to flaunt their lack of rugged individualism, they join the chase in a shiny cavalcade of black company cars. Bastards.

Although they have more state-of-the-art stuff than the Hardings, the snotty corporate types don't much concern Bill. Nicknamed the "human barometer," he actually knows what a tornado is thinking. Indeed, the weather satellite is invariably bested by the meteorological mind-reader. Bill, who is about to settle down and become a TV weatherman, clearly belongs out here in the suck zone. But will he realize it before returning to a miserable life in broadcasting?

Did the Tin Man want a heart?

Even when the heroic Hardings look an F5 square in the eye, there's no doubt that they'll survive, get back together and live happily ever after chasing funnel clouds. The same was true of the leads in director Jan De Bont's "Speed," but Hunt and Paxton just aren't as charismatic as Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. The poor things could have been replaced with their stunt doubles.

Here, De Bont sets a pace that's in the Mach range, and engineers many dazzling action sequences. But like the huckster in "The Wizard of Oz," he seems to know that he's peddling a false elixir. Though he quotes from that 1939 classic, this only reminds us of how much better films were back then, in Hollywood's Golden Age. It speaks to the current dearth of imagination that we have gone from "Oz" to "Twister," from the storm as a dramatic catalyst to the storm as the story itself.

Twister is rated PG-13 for scary storm footage.

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