Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell in Stormy Sequel 5

One of the elements that gave Twister such a visceral charge back in 1996 was its balance of practical effects with CGI, during a transitional period when the latter was becoming more seamlessly integrated into live action. Jan de Bont’s propulsive direction and two appealing leads with great chemistry also helped. Arriving almost three decades later, Twisters gets the job done in terms of whipping up life-threatening tornadoes that leave a trail of wreckage in their wake. But the extent to which all this is conjured with a digital paintbox lessens the pulse-quickening awe of nature at its most destructive.

The movie marks a confident enough move to a much bigger canvas for director Lee Isaac Chung, whose personal connection to the rural American heartland brought such aching tenderness to Minari. That quality can be discerned in this film’s feel for geography, with red clay backroads cutting through verdant Oklahoma fields, and in the sorrow with which it witnesses the devastation of small communities.

Twisters

The Bottom Line

Moves but never quite flies.

Release date: Friday, July 19
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, Brandon Perea, Maura Tierney, Sasha Lane, Harry Hadden-Paton, David Corenswet, Tunde Adebimpe, Katy O’Brian
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Screenwriter: Mark L. Smith

Rated PG-13,
2 hours 3 minutes

As a summer blockbuster, Twisters more or less meets the requirements, unleashing lots of fierce weather, putting a smart, attractive woman between two attractive men who seem to have very different priorities and emphasizing the stakes right up front by startling us in an extended prologue with significant losses.

But something’s missing. Mark L. Smith’s screenplay — working from a story by Joseph Kosinski, who was originally slated to direct — settles into a routine pattern in which one whirlwind follows another with too little incremental buildup. The character dynamics are entirely predictable, which tends to soften the drama. And as for humor, there’s nothing here that even comes close to Jami Gertz’s New York therapist blurting “We got cows!” as an airborne heifer sails by the vehicle she’s in with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.

The central character in Twisters is Kate Carter (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a physics whiz with an intuitive feel for the mutable power of tornadoes. She hopes to secure a research grant for her ambitious PhD project to neutralize storms by absorbing the moisture trapped in their wind funnels. The movie opens with Kate and her crew of college-pal storm chasers seriously underestimating the tornado on which they aim to test their experiment, with tragic results.

Five years later, Kate has resettled in New York City, where she works as a meteorologist, still tracking weather patterns only now from behind a desk. Her detachment from Oklahoma and her small-town farm roots is so decisive that her mother, Cathy (Maura Tierney), has told her daughter’s former colleague Javi (Anthony Ramos) that Kate no longer goes home.

Javi turns up in New York after a stint in the military as a data analyst, talking up a plan to get three-dimensional tornado scans using portable radar units. He has a highly qualified crew and the backing of a rich investor but needs Kate’s help to predict storm paths. She takes some persuading but eventually agrees to give him one week.

Back in Oklahoma, Kate gets her first taste of the circus side of storm-chasing when Tyler Owens (Glen Powell) rolls into town out of Arkansas in his tricked-out truck, accompanied by his crew of rowdy daredevils. Javi’s business partner Scott (David Corenswet) dismisses them with a sneer as “hillbillies with a YouTube channel,” but Tyler prefers to call himself a “tornado wrangler,” an allusion to his days on the rodeo circuit.

Powell’s charisma is turned way up in Tyler’s cocksure swagger and in the unapologetic egomania fed by his social media fame. His team’s merchandise includes T-shirts featuring his image over the slogan, “Not my first rodeo.” Still, with Tyler and his crew constantly yipping and hooting and hollering like Wild West cowboys, they initially are a tiresome bunch.

Only once Tyler dials down the showboating enough to get closer to Kate and show genuine respect for her knowledge do the principal characters foster much real involvement. Even then, when both Javi and Tyler’s attitudes toward chasing tornadoes are revealed to be more complex than they seem at first, there’s never much doubt which way Kate’s loyalties will swing. If you pour Glen Powell into skin-tight Western shirts and jeans, does anyone else really stand a chance?

There was a real opportunity here to contemporize the story by factoring climate change into the increasing frequency of violent storms tearing up America’s Tornado Alley. But Smith’s screenplay limits that to a glancing mention or two; shots of wind farms or an oil refinery being pummeled by a twister, adding fire to its elemental ferocity, speak more eloquently. The movie does score points, however, in its observation of the ways in which wealthy business opportunists profit from the tragedies of ordinary Americans.

Anyone coming to Twisters primarily for the tornado action will likely enjoy the ride. But perhaps it’s the relative paucity of intimate scenes away from the storms’ path that gives both the characters and the actors’ performances limited scope.

Tyler’s crew is plenty colorful, comprised of videographer Boone (Brandon Perea), who approaches each weather event like an extreme sports nut; thrill-seeking drone operator Lily (Sasha Lane); excitable science geek Dexter (Tunde Adebimpe); and Dani (Katy O’Brian), who serves as mechanic when not occupied with fist-pumping battle cries. But the group is more individualized by their looks than any substance written into their characters. The same goes for Harry Hadden-Paton as Ben, a London journalist profiling Tyler, who sheds his initial stiffness right on cue.

It’s almost as if someone decided not to have any of the humans compete with the mighty forces of nature for attention. That goes for everyone, including Edgar-Jones’ earnest, compassionate and, sorry, slightly dull Kate; Ramos’ gullible entrepreneur, Javi; and Powell’s Tyler, despite his megawatt movie-star smile and hair that looks good even in 300 mph winds. Theirs is a romantic triangle sketched only in a flimsy outline.

What’s considerably more robust are the tornadoes. Twenty-eight years of FX technological advances give the storms more definition and visual sophistication than the sequel’s progenitor. The most notable is a glowering destroyer that gathers steam during an evening rodeo, clobbering the grandstand and nearby motel almost without warning. The monumental final tornado also delivers on spectacle, ripping up a folksy town with a tram running through its Main Street farmers’ market and an old movie palace screening James Whale’s Frankenstein, where people huddle for short-lived shelter.

But no one ever answers the nagging question of why all these people living in an area regularly hammered by tornadoes never seem to have a basement or storm cellar to flee to. Except for the fact the movie’s formula is built around humans in peril, which tends not to work so well if you don’t expose them to nature’s fury.

Chung and DP Dan Mindel take full advantage of the rural Oklahoma locations’ wide-open spaces to give Twisters a vivid sense of place with roots in another time, grounded as much in the architecture as the landscapes. That aspect is enhanced also by a soundtrack of original country songs by contemporary artists (plus a cover or two, including Charley Crockett doing “Ghost Riders in the Sky”), threaded in with Benjamin Wallfisch’s score.

Whatever the film’s strengths or weaknesses, it benefits from what seems like genuine love for this environment, in which the modern world collides with vintage Americana. The attention shown to shattered townships in the aftermath of storms suggests both the old-fashioned values of community solidarity and the increasingly urgent need to stop abusing nature before it consumes us.

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