Jenny and I watched Twister last night. Again. The 1996 storm chaser flick starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton is a prime candidate for my Big Book of Guilty Pleasures, a low-brow literary project I may pursue one day. When Twister first appeared, most media coverage concentrated on its stunning effects, notably the combination of computer generated graphics and creepy animal noises used to create big screen tornadoes. And the movie still holds up on a high definition screen. But those genuinely impressive scenes -- a tornado tearing through a farm, a waterspout splitting into twins, and a pickup racing through a storm-tossed house -- do not attract me to Twister year after year. No, for me, it's the movie's endearing cheesiness that warrants repeat viewings.
Twister's plot begins with the banal struggles of Bill Harding (who comes up with these names?) to convince Jo, his estranged wife, to sign divorce documents so he can marry Melissa. Rather than wait for certified mail, Bill drives out to a farm road to pick up the papers, but he has no plans to join Jo and her wacky crew of storm chasers on their high-speed adventures through the countryside, even though this happens to be the stormiest day in thirty years. Did I mention that Bill is a former storm chaser whose tornado research equipment will debut today? And that Bill brought Melissa with him? And that Jo saw her dad swept up into a tornado thirty years ago? One windy day in Oklahoma can hardly compete with the tempest sure to blow in their hearts.
I love this movie's earnestness, particularly in its characters. Jo is haunted by the vision of her father getting sucked into that twister, even seeing families who eerily resemble her own standing in the rubble of storm-struck towns. Her crew is a motley collection of chipper sidekicks who race into danger to a Van Halen soundtrack but grow ominously silent when Melissa asks for a description of an F-5 tornado. "The Finger of God," is the awestruck response. My favorite illustration of this film's goofy seriousness is when we catch sight of Jonas Miller, a competing storm chaser. Bill describes his nemesis to Melissa, scrunching his face in disgust and practically spitting into the camera: "He's in it for the money, not the science." The DVD scene featuring Jonas crowing about tornado-research equipment called DOT-3 -- a rip-off of Bill's "Dorothy" device -- is actually labeled "Corporate Kissbutt."
Character conflicts well defined and in place, the movie leaps into a relentless pace as the storm chasers compete to position their research gear in the path of increasingly destructive tornadoes. The screen fills with flying debris, cows, fire trucks, and even houses. Twisters careen through ever-bigger targets: a farm, a drive-in, eventually an entire town. All the while Jo and Bill rediscover their passion for each other. And what about Bill's whiny fiancée? Melissa has enough good sense to depart after recognizing that she can't compete with Jo. To assuage Bill's guilt (and our own for cheering her departure) Melissa assures us all: "Sooner or later it would have ended. We both know that." Bill says nothing, so she adds, "The funny thing is, I'm not that upset. What does that mean?" With that awkwardness out of the way, Bill and Jo prepare for one last attempt at positioning "Dorothy" in the suck zone.
In case you haven't seen the film, I won't spoil Twister's climax for you. You can rest assured, however, that you'll see the Finger of God, that Jo will overcome her demons, and that Bill won't be too lonely that evening. Oh, and that Corporate Kissbutt will get a closer look at a tornado than he'd ever want. It's all such ludicrous fun, so loud and silly and amazing to behold, that our family watches this flick at least once a year. Jenny and I even dream of taking a storm chasing tour, envisioning our adventures among zany do-gooders who face hail and lightening in search of thrill and adventure. I'll fill my iPod playlist with Van Helen and try to keep the lens of my video camera clean. Now I just need to find a decent map of Oklahoma.