Twister (1996) Directed by Jan de Bont. With Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jami Gertz.
Following-up on his success directing the Keanu Reeves action-thriller Speed, ex-cinematographer-turned-director Jan de Bont’s Hollywood stock had risen. With a screenplay co-written by Michael Crichton and with Steven Spielberg aboard as Executive Producer, Twister is a high-profile $92,000,000 film about bad wind.
As it turned out, people flocked to see it (the final box office haul stands at just shy of $500m) – even without a marquee name attached to the cast-list. Strictly a summer ‘event’ movie, Twister stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as a will-they-won’t-they (you know they will) storm-chasers in the US state of Oklahoma. It’s a complicated soup, though. Bill and Helen used to be an item – but are now on the brink of divorce. Bill shows up at the beginning of the film with his new fiancé in tow (a stiff-looking Jami Gertz), just as Helen and her team of rock n’ roll weather fanatics are prepping to track a brewing storm. Of course, Bill and his increasingly traumatised fiancé end up tagging along (he left the band a while ago, but he’s clearly still got the bug for it) – which begins this stop-start drama-adventure in which Mother Nature plays the central antagonist.
Although the sight of the actual twisters in action is an impressive one (flying cows are the highlight), the screenplay is downright awful. Paxton and Hunt’s relationship is about as corny, predictable and one-dimensional as you’re likely to see. More than that, it’s grating to see them forced to go-through-the-emotions as the film attempts the leverage some kind of token human interest beyond the blustery appeal of the high winds. Philip Seymour Hoffman (yes him) is cast in the role of an airhead storm-chaser, and though he seems stoned the most of the way through the film, at least he seems to be enjoying himself.
This being Hollywood, we have to have some humans to boo-hiss too. Step-forward Cary Elwes (surely he can’t play the arrogant bad guy after Hot Shots!?), leading a rival team of storm-geeks – complete with nerdy head-sets and an impressive motorcade of black government vehicles. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was something straight out of a spoof.
Despite its huge financial returns, Twister feels like paint-by-numbers blockbuster film-making. It has box office-friendly spectacle, which would have made it an easy film to market, but at the eye of the storm is merely a hollow dramatic core. 2.5/5