Opens: May 10, 1996 | Rated: PG
"Twister" is a two-hour seat-gripping rush of adrenaline. It's the "Jurassic Park" of natural disaster movies, and it's a first in many ways -- the first disaster movie with characters who know what they're getting into, the first movie heavy with a computer-generated visual effects built around things the audience has seen before (as opposed to dinosaurs).
But strip away the visuals, and "Twister" has scavenged literally every story element from "Star Wars" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Heroine Helen Hunt (from TV's "Mad About You"), a tornado chasing atmospheric researcher, is still coping with the death of her father 20 years ago at the hands of her enemy, the ominous tornado (she's Luke Skywalker, the tornado is Darth Vader).
Brilliant fellow storm-chaser Bill Paxton is an adventuresome scientist (Indiana Jones) with a ravenous, well-financed rival (Beloq) both of whom are pursuing the same goal, to collect data from inside a tornado (the Ark).
He has a love-hate relationship with Hunt, a woman who is his equal in the same field (Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood). She has a wise older aunt who helps her find her inner strength (Yoda).
The tornadoes are Darth Vader, the Death Star or the Ark, depending on where we are in the story.
With their hyper-active hodge-podge crew of experts, Paxton and Hunt chase down forming tornadoes, trying to launch a revolutionary probe into the funnel to study the storm.
It's blatantly pirated stuff. Hopefully screenwriters Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin weren't paid too handsomely for these recycled ideas.
But when the tornadoes strike -- tossing an 18-wheeler down in front of the fleeing heroes, swallowing up their truck or tearing apart a barn as they hide inside -- it doesn't matter one bit. It's loud, realistic and frightening, and the audience is along for the ride.
If "Twister" had been bogged down with creative new story elements, I'd probably be telling you they tried to do too much and should have stuck with the effects.
Besides, the filmmakers admit their "Star Wars" piracy right in the script when a twister approaches and a storm-chaser hollers "That's no moon, it's a space station!"
Of course being a tornado movie there's also a smattering of "Wizard of Oz" references, the least subtle of which is the probe launched into the tornado named "Dorothy."
The storyline in "Twister" is adequate. The effects are spectacular.
The acting is fine, with two exceptions. British native Cary Elwes, as the corporate-backed, bad guy rival, does a dreadful southern accent. And Jami Gertz, as Paxton's uptight fiancee, is an annoying and unnecessary, present only because the scientists needed a layman to explain the plot to.
Really, it comes down to this: Unless your heart can't take the tension, absolutely see "Twister" once. It's worth $7.
It won't stand up to repeated viewing, however. Knowing what happens next you would be bored silly.
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