THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, May 16, 1996 TAG: 9605160041 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E6 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 90 lines
``TWISTER'' IS NOT just a lot of hot air. It's a lot of whirling air - the kind that is likely to keep a place in the local multiplexes through the summer.
Its special effects are no less than awesome. On the other hand, its plot is almost nonexistent, and often borders on silly. But if you move fast enough, no one need notice that the humans don't really matter a great deal except as potential victims.
Having opened by taking in almost $38 million in its first weekend in theaters, ``Twister'' proves that ticketbuyers are ready to begin the summer season of big-bang, escapist movies, the kind that simply get us out of the sun and keep us diverted. ``Twister'' has the advantage of being the first in the pack but it also has the advantage of a very remarkable director - Jan De Bont. He proves here that ``Speed'' was no fluke.
De Bont's gift for pacing, with the help of frantic editing, can hide any plot holes that may linger around the edges. With ``Speed,'' he made us sit still and take seriously a bus that manages to cross metropolitan Los Angeles without going under 50 miles per hour. With ``Twister,'' he keeps storms coming at us so rapidly that we have no time to realize that the plot is little more than a ``Search for Tomorrow'' triangle of ex-husband, ex-wife and new girlfriend.
The real star of ``Twister'' is Samuel Flick, the supervising sound editor. The rest of the summer's megabuck technical marvels are going to have go far to beat this guy for the ``best sound'' Oscar. He uses everything from camel's moans to old-fashioned wind tunnels to make the tornadoes sound as if they are demons from hell.
The humans are mere supporting actors but because of the ingenious casting of Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton there is more likability and humanity than would be expected. Hunt is something of a mixture of Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane - the self-sustaining tomboy who doesn't mind mussing her hair. She wears a tank-top and is forced to look toward the sky and continuously announce the obvious: ``Cow,'' ``Debris,'' ``House.'' In one of her silliest assignments, she screams ``right'' and ``left'' as driver Paxton dodges the debris.
These two are pushing their invention called Dorothy (with a nod toward Missy Judy Garland's tornado experience). It's supposed to send little sensors flying in the air, recording scientific stuff. It seems particularly impractical, though, because it has to be driven into the middle of a tornado.
Paxton, an actor so likably down to earth that he is sure to become a bigger star, plays her ex-husband, a former storm chaser who now is resigned to taking the money and becoming a TV weather-man.
Jami Gertz, the queen of such horrendous B-budget flicks as ``The Lost Boys'' and ``Solarbabies,'' is delightfully wacky as Paxton's new girlfriend - a starched, prissy thing who answers cellular phone calls even when in the middle of a tornado. She takes a nothing, thankless, role and turns it into needed comic relief.
Cary Elwes (``Lady Jane'' and ``The Princess Bride'') is merely kissed off as the potential villain. He's so mean that his rival storm-chasing crew drives jet-black minivans. It looks, though, as if his subplot has been cut. He barely makes an appearance.
Particularly notable is the fine character actress Lois Smith as Hunt's aunt. Smith is a Tony nominee for her Broadway role in Sam Shepard's play ``Buried Child.'' Rent a copy of the classic ``East of Eden'' and you'll see her memorable, much younger, face as the barmaid who aided James Dean. Her film career covers 40 years.
``Twister'' is sure to end up as a thrill ride in some theme park. It is, after all, more thrill ride than conventional movie. It hits us so relentlessly that we don't even have time to go get popcorn. ILLUSTRATION: Photo by WARNER BROS. AND UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS, INC.
Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) and Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) run from an
oncoming tornado in ``Twister.''
Cast: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz, Lois
Director: Jan De Bont
Screenplay: Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin
MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, intense scenes of destruction)
Mal's rating: 3 stars
Locations: Cinemark, Greenbrier 13 in Chesapeake; Janaf, Main
Gate in Norfolk; Columbus, Kemps River, Lynnhaven 8, Surf-N-Sand in