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Twister

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As spring approaches, it’s time for those of us in the midwest to get ready for storm season – and in recent years, this has meant, for me, another excuse to watch “Twister” – a movie rated that is actually PG-13 for “intense depictions of Very Bad Weather” (and yes, that’s really what the box says). It may not teach much about tornado safety, but it sure reminds you why it’s a good idea to pay attention when those sirens sound.

Let’s be honest, though. “Twister” is not a great movie. It barely qualifies as a “good” one in most categories. But it is a whole lot of fun, and if you ignore the problems with the story and the generally perfunctory acting, there are certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours.

The problem with the story is that, well, there’s just too much of it. At it’s heart, Twister is a basic “girl meets tornado, girl hates tornado, girl beats tornado” story. The movie opens with a scene showing Jo, our heroine’s, as a child, when her father is sucked away and killed during an F5 tornado – the meanest, baddest twisters on the block. As an adult, Jo is now obsessed with finding a way to beat the tornados, by developing a way to give people more lead time to take shelter when a storm is threatening their area. Travelling with her is a motley assortment of fellow storm-chasers, each with his or her own special skill and basic, one-note personality. Also joining her is her husband, Bill, a former storm-chaster known as “The Extreme”, from whom she has recently separated. The action takes place over the course of a single day during which there is an outbreak of tornados, and Jo and her team have a chance to test their new tool that they hope will give them the data needed to create a better warning systems. Of course, through the trials they face together, Jo and Bill have the chance to find their way back to each other, and rekindle the love that Jo’s obession with twisters had pretty much killed.

Had that been the extent of the story, it would have been just perfect. See, this is an “event” film – it’s about the visceral sense of being in the midst of horrendous storm, killer winds bearing down on you, and coming out alive. The characters and plot are just there to give us an excuse to watch the special effects.

But “Twister” wanted to be more than just an “effects” movie, and went a bit overboard in setting up the story elements. In addition to our intrepid heros and the villainous storms they chase, we are also treated to the evil corporate-sponsored stormchasers who are trying to steal Bill’s idea for the tornado sensors, and Bill’s hapless fiance, a reproductive therapist who is not only overwhelmed by the storms themselves, but also by a couple she is counseling who seem to need to speak to her almost constantly. Neither of these storylines really adds much to the story – though Melissa, Bill’s fiance, does serve well as an excuse for the filmmakers to have Bill and Jo explain much of what they’re doing, how storms work, and the technical information that help make the main part of the story more understandable.

The inclusion of the rival stormchasers is, perhaps, the most pointless part of the movie. These guys aren’t the villains – the tornados are – and they don’t really add anything to the movies. If the filmmakers were trying to make a point about the corrupting influence of corporate sponsorship, they could do little better than they did with the scene in which we discover that, apparently, everyone in Wakita drinks only PepsiCo products.

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