The producers pulling together a long-expected sequel to “Twister” would be wise to take a look at “Supercell” before shooting starts. It’s a “Twister” sequel in everything but name.
A kid grows up in Florida, where his blonde, ex-storm scientist mother moved him after his famous storm-chasing died in the line of duty years before? The teen runs off to Texas where an uncle now tracks tornadoes and drives paying customers around for a bullying, grizzled and storm-obsessed tour operator?
That would have been an excellent plot to build “Twisters,” slated for release in 2024, around. The filmmakers of “Supercell” think so, too. The teen does a Google search for his dad, and one of the names he scrolls past is Bill Paxton, the late star of that 1996 hit.
“Supercell” is the last or next to last film Anne Heche made before she died. Its “bullying, grizzled and storm-obsessed tour operator” is played by Alec Baldwin, who makes lines like “Storm chasing is 90% driving and 10% witnessing the Creator’s Wrath” work.
Truth be told, a lot of this debut feature by director/co-writer Herbert James Winterstern works. Consider its structure and shooting strategy, capturing the stark beauty of the great, flat middle of America’s Tornado Alley, that Texas to North Dakota belt that this Montana-based production depicts. Listen for the French horns in the emotional moments of the Corey Wallace score.
This guy isn’t fooling around. He’s doing Spielberg, a “Close Encounters/E.T.” take on storm chasing. Hey, if you’re gonna steal…
A prologue that avoids showing adult faces lets us see a little boy learning weather basics as he’s eyeballing storms from his dad, and caution from his mother. The kid is handed Dad’s stethoscope and told that “Mom is inventing something” that will let the world “hear” storms about to turn tornadic from far enough off to save lives.
Close-ups of hands grabbing radios or dial cell phones, a “Brody Storm Labs” truck peels out, a child walks up to a Spielbergian window to glimpse an awesome “Close Encounter” in the making and a tragedy, mostly off-camera, is heard on shortwave radio and seen in the unanswered cell phone in an overturned truck.
That seven minute prologue is so beautifully handled it should give Winterstern a dandy sizzle reel to show folks when he’s trying to line up work, even if not a lot of people see “Supercell.”
Here’s what you’ll miss if you don’t.
Daniel Diemer of TV’s “The Midnight Club” is Will Brody, son of the “legendary” storm chaser, a teen helping his mom clean houses in BFE, Florida because that’s where she moved them and that’s what she does after the trauma of losing her husband and two Oklahoma University grad students did to her.
Will’s grown up not knowing his dad, and obsessed with storms and the DIY gear his parents invented to “listen” to them. That gadget gets him in trouble when he keeps it in a backpack at school. The principal and the cops thought it was a bomb.
When he bolts out a window to climb on the roof in “the lightning capital of America” (Florida) to use it, they get it. Longtime rich girl crush Hunter (Jordan Kristine Seamón), the one giving him driving lessons in her vintage Mustang, is further smitten.
Dad’s old journal arriving in the mail has Will hitchhiking to Texas, just showing up at Uncle Roy’s (Skeet Ulrich) door. That’s how he falls in with “Brody Storm Chasers,” a company named for his uncle and his late father but owned by gonzo, low-rent capitalist Zane (Baldwin).
When Mom finds out, she’s “There’s no place safe in that entire TIME zone this time of year” pissed. But since her truck’s broke, she’ll have to ride share to Texas with Danger Boy-loving Hunter.
They’d better hurry. It’s that time of year.
The state of the art in digital effects is in a different universe than the one “Twister” was filmed in, so much so that the late Ms. Heche was able to film two convincing and perfectly watchable tornado movies in the last couple of years of her life — this one and the more tense and perilous “13 Minutes.”
Nobody is going to call “Supercell” a great film. There’s a blown line or two, attempts at humor seem strained, more suspense was needed as the Big Storm payoffs arrive too-abruptly. Characters are thinly-developed and its corny enough to be predictable, even though there aren’t really enough tornado tales on film that one could call it a genre.
But it is well-thought-out, beautifully shot by Andrew Jeric (“Sightless”) and the actors, playing stock “types,” add value with performances that land, even when characters are doing one of the “three things” you should never risk in a tornado, even as the sentimental script is skipping past a teenager’s questions about the afterlife so that we can get to a scene where today’s storm chasers slow-clap the son of their late idol.
It isn’t “Twisters.” But if the makers of that sequel have the good sense to sample everything else that’s been done on the subject recently, it is a film that sets the bar for them. A little script-doctoring, a few family photos of the late Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman and the presence of Oscar-winner Helen Hunt and you’ve got yourself the outline, the tone and the look of a movie almost sure to be a hit.
Rating: PG-13 (Profanity, some peril, smoking)
Cast: Daniel Diemer, Anne Heche, Jordan Kristine Seamón, Skeet Ulrich and Alec Baldwin
Credits: Directed by Herbert James Winterstern, scripted by Herbert James Winterstern and Anna Elizbeth James. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:40