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Starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton,
Cary Elwes, and Jami Gertz
Directed by Jan De Bont

"Extreme," in current lingo, is slang for people who do what seem to be incredibly stupid things just for the joy of it -- usually things that should very well kill them. It is the nickname given to meteorological scientist Bill Harding (Bill Paxton). It's a more apt nickname for the former love of his life, ex-wife Jo (Helen Hunt), who would gladly walk into the funnel of a killer tornado, as if it were calling to her. The symbolic reasons for this are laid out at the start of Twister, the first movie of the season to justify the recent New York City ticket price hike.

From Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, think of Twister as "Close Encounters of the Windy Kind," and you'll have a very good idea what to expect. Twister is a magnificent spectacle of a movie. The packed house I sat in spontaneously broke into applause on at least four separate occasions. The special effects work by George Lucas' ILM, coupled with a more-than-effective score by Mark Mancina, is absolutely first-rate.

I'm not pushing the CE3K comparison. There's a beautiful shot somewhere in the middle of Twister in which the characters stare, awestruck at a nearby tornado funnel, which duplicates a scene from Steven Spielberg's alien masterpiece. It is a fitting tribute.

Gimme a sec to catch my breath.

Hunt and Paxton worked together in a shoestring twister chasing operation, trying to gather data to predict tornado activity before it happened. Now Paxton wants to remarry and, fiancee in tow, comes to get the divorce papers signed. Coincidentally, they come together as the worst day in twister history descends upon Oklahoma. Also in the mix is a competing crew of twister chasers led by Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), well-funded and quite full of themselves. It is a simple story whose sole intent is to get us hip-deep in the thunder and flash.

Make that neck deep.

This is not an unconditional rave. I was not convinced by the performance of Jami Gertz as Melissa, the fiancee. When she realizes that Jo (Hunt) is still in love with Bill and confronts her, the audience groaned. When she confronts Bill, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and asked, "Do you buy this?" She responded "Not for a second." The script, written by veterans Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin could have been better. But that's not the point. By the time the subplot plays out, it's irrelevant. You know that Paxton and Hunt will reunite from the word go. You know they will con front one tornado after another, seeking to launch their scientific devices into the eye of the storm. You know that each twister will be larger than its predecessor. You know that, climactically, they will be pulled into the heart of the storm.

You know you can't wait.

Twister slams you into your seat. It stuns you with the images that fly across the screen. It's the effects, folks, they are all that you expect, and more. You cannot tell where "real life" leaves off, and ILM's wizards take over. The sound and the thunder and the destructive fury of the storms is overwhelming. Cranky's jaw dropped. Yours will, too. Tip your hat to Director Jan De Bont who, as he did in Speed, paces the film perfectly.

On the negative side, (they don't call me Cranky for nothing) someone somewhere spent a lot of time putting together the CD "soundtrack," the songs that show up in the film for about five seconds. They also made sure that huge hunks of the things got mixed into the soundtrack when they shouldn't have been.

To make the point: In a very effective scene, the characters in Hunt's group barrel down back roads playing their "battle music" at full blast. We hear heavy metal and the William Tell Overture intermix to great effect. But later, in quiet scenes between Paxton and Hunt, background music is mixed so loudly it is distracting. We want character development, but we get a country song. That's a negative.

So what?

When push comes to shove, the negatives don't add up to a hill of beans. The story is the twister. See it in a theater that plays the soundtrack REALLY LOUD. You cannot be disappointed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Twister, he would have paid . . .


Think of it this way. Without the price increase this rating would have been within spitting distance of "go out and get another ticket immediately." Twister is worth seeing twice, not only for the effects, but also for the presence of Helen Hunt, the sexiest woman on any screen, big or small. I said it and I mean it.

Click to buy films by Jan de Bont
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Click to buy films starring Bill Paxton

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