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TWISTER. Directed by Jan De Bont; written by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin; produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Ian Bryce and Michael Crichton for Warner Bros. Starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. Rated PG-13.


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Twister really shouldn't work, but it does.

It has a story so lame I'm surprised anybody (much less Michael "Jurassic Park" Crichton) was willing to take public script credit. There are enough cliches in this movie to choke a goose, and enough goofy coincidences to do in the gander.

But in spite of all that, it's still fun to watch! How did they do it? Well, partly, they did it with mirrors (or, more accurately, computers). The digitized special effects are so good, and so original, that they literally take your breath away.

The tornadoes are so awesome (in the word's old-fashioned, literal sense) that you don't really care what silly storyline put you in their path. You just watch and are amazed. And practically deafened—tornadoes, you know, are LOUD.

In fairness, though, the special effects aren't the only plus Twister has going for it. The story may be weak, but the actors, from the leads on down to the bit players, are quite appealing and entertaining. They may not get us to swallow all the story's howlers, but at least they make it easier to ignore them.

Paxton has always had an interesting screen presence and in his first real leading role, as (supposedly) retired tornado-chaser Bill Harding, he doesn't disappoint. He has a kind of solid, down-to-earth appeal that makes you believe he really can tell when and where a tornado is going to strike.

Hunt, as fans of the popular TV show "Mad About You" well know, is an enormously appealing actress. Her role here, as Jo, leader of a team of scientific storm-chasers and Bill's soon-to-be ex-wife, is perfect for her tomboyish, yet vulnerable, persona.

The rest of the cast is equally good, from Jo's wild group of risk-addicted computer geeks, to Jamie Gertz as Bill's new fiance and Cary Elwes as a rival storm-seeker. And the dialogue, unlike the actual storyline, is first-rate, with lots of throw-away humor and infectious enthusiasm.

So, put up with the corny story and the silly contrivances. Forget that tornadoes really are so hard to track and catch on the ground, while Jo and Bill seem to have no trouble being menaced by several of the beasts (and in increasing order of ferocity, to boot).

Enjoy the witty banter and the effects; then have fun comparing howlers with your friends. Because at the rate it's going at the box office, by the end of the summer EVERYONE will have seen Twister. And you don't want to be left out!

June 5, 1996

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