‘Twisters’ Review: Disaster Movie Reboot Offers Spectacle But Little Substance

The original Twister, released in 1996, emerged during a golden age in Hollywood that erased the previously held threshold that kept A-list actors away from B-movie material. It didn’t get much better than casting John Malkovich as Cyrus the Virus in Jerry Bruckheimer’s 1997 blockbuster bruiser Con Air, but making Helen Hunt the lead in a disaster movie — just a year away from winning an Oscar opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets — certainly gave Twister some unexpected gravitas.

Twisters, however, is part of a more recent phenomenon: the Sundance-to-tentpole pipeline that started in 2012 when Colin Trevorrow went straight from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World.

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Twisters marks a similar leap forward for director Lee Isaac Chung, who scored a big indie breakout hit in 2020 with the low-key family drama Minari. The two films share some rustic overlap — Chung shoots Oklahoma with the same affection he previously gave to Arkansas — but, with its prioritization of spectacle over plot, Twisters isn’t really the kind of film an auteur can easily stamp their imprimatur on. There’s also a question of timing; Warners premiered Twisters in early July at the height of the British monsoon season — they call it Wimbledon — meaning that people were coming in out of the pouring rain to watch people going out into the pouring rain. Not quite the launch that likely was imagined.

As openings go, the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” is considered to be the nadir of English-language fiction. Twisters, though, turns that negative into a positive, as meteorologist Kate Cooper (Daisy Edgar-Jones) joins some friends on what they call a tornado-taming project. The idea is to ambush an oncoming tornado, fill it with polymers (or something) and shrink it. The plan, however, does not work, and another storm is following close behind (“Whatever’s in there, it’s big and it’s moving fast!”). Within 15 blurry minutes of waterlogged, wind-battered carnage, Kate is alone, the final (weather) girl.

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Fade to black. Before you can say, “Five years later,” it is, indeed, five years later, and Kate has a grown-up job in New York, studying weather from the safety of her desk (“Tornados are very rare in New York,” notes one of her colleagues, perhaps sowing a seed for a more interesting sequel). Kate, however, has been tracked down by Javi (Anthony Ramos), the only other survivor of the opening onslaught. Javi has been working with the military on a three-part sensor system (Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man) that can triangulate a tornado, making a 3D map of its progress. Kate isn’t interested (“I don’t chase anymore,” she insists, as per genre-movie script requirements), but her reluctance doesn’t last long.

Soon, Kate is (literally) back in the field, which is where she meets Tyler Owens (Glen Powell), a self-styled “tornado wrangler” who chases twisters for entertainment, broadcasting his adventures live on YouTube. Tyler wears a Stetson, a big belt buckle, calls Kate “City Girl” and generally is so unreconstructed that it’s a wonder The Dukes of Hazzard doesn’t call, asking for this week’s guest star back. Tyler has his ragtag crew with him — “We don’t need PhDs and fancy gadgets,” he whoops — plus a British journalist in tow, a character as annoying as he will prove to be unnecessary. Anyone expecting the sly, charismatic Powell we saw in Hit Man will be sorely disappointed.

The ensuing push and pull between Kate and Tyler is pretty much the only thing sustaining the film’s two-hour running time, with a slender subplot involving Javi’s shady boss, a profiteering businessman named Marshall Riggs (David Born), who follows in every tornado’s wake, buying up damaged land and property from the poor and uninsured (climate change is alluded to precisely once, by Kate’s mother). Sadly, the ghastly realization soon dawns that this is actually a love story — and the worst possible kind, where it takes a down-home country boy to bring a neurotic career girl back to her roots. In fact, all that’s missing is a scene where Kate takes her glasses off and shakes her hair down.

Since there’s so only much you can do with tornados, Twisters switches things up for the last act, in which, instead of trailing behind the latest twister, Kate and Tyler decide to get ahead of it and evacuate the unwitting victims in its path. This leads them to El Reno, a twee rural backwater more American than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, where the film’s biggest and best set piece plays out and Kate, now in cahoots with Tyler, revisits her initial polymer plan with the help of rockets filled with silver iodide (or something).

Those old enough to remember the original Twister and either expecting a sequel or a reboot will be surprised to find that it’s neither, being more of a loose, self-contained cover version than either of those options. But aside from that film’s hardcore fans and franchise completists, it’s hard to imagine who Twisters is actually for. The dialogue is creaky, whenever it’s not Satnav-speak (“There’s a right turn coming up!”), and the bad behavior of rapidly spinning air isn’t really something to invest in. Which, as the end credits roll, might explain why there was a 28-year gap between this one and the last one…

Title: Twisters
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 19, 2024
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Screenwriter: Mark L. Smith
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr 2 mins

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