*½/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C+
starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes
screenplay by Michael Crichton & Anne-Marie Martin
directed by Jan De Bont
by Bill Chambers Jan De Bont's Twister has a host of problems that mocking its physics--a common pastime among smartasses the summer of its release--doesn't begin to address, though if the film were even one degree more earnest than it is, moments like the bit where a tornado powerful enough to hoist a tractor leaves two people clinging tenaciously to a wooden support beam under a rickety bridge unscathed would make for prime "MST3K" fodder. (That's the thing about notorious pedant Michael Crichton, who co-wrote Twister with then-wife Anne-Marie Martin: he figures getting the technobabble right buys him more poetic license than it really does.) For starters, Helen Hunt doesn't belong in this milieu--and by that I mean the film's, not that of the blockbuster. (I actually thought she acquitted herself fine in What Women Want and Cast Away.) Blame the contemporary compulsion to spell everything out: The picture saddles her character, Dr. Jo Harding, with a Tragic Past™ so that she'll have a psychological motivation for chasing twisters, something that is not only completely gratuitous but also forces us to consider her provenance in a way that would never be an issue had the film stuck to the present tense. It's impossible to imagine the immutably bicoastal Hunt as the Midwest offspring of the rednecks who leave an indelible impression in the opening flashback, and as a result she wanders through Twister a virtual impostor.