Bruce Almighty: Tornado! (1996)

You won’t be blown away but there’s plenty of charm to this small screen mockbuster, says Matty.

“Hell hath no fury like a twister!” TORNADO!’s US video sleeve shamelessly declared, as if this made-for-television disaster flick’s inspiration couldn’t be any more obvious. Premiering stateside as a Fox Original Movie on Tuesday 7th May 1996, three days before the North American release of Warner Bros. and Universal’s Twister (1996), the debt Tornado! owes to Jan DeBont’s gusty romp is unmistakable — even if the entire budget of Noel Nosseck’s enterprising cheapie wouldn’t have covered the cost of Twister star Bill Paxton’s Winnebago. But that’s not a slam by any means. Despite boasting a distinct lack of spectacle and excitement on the scale of DeBont’s $90million offering, Tornado! isn’t without its charms, Nosseck’s use of stock footage, suspiciously foamy-looking ‘debris’, some ropey digital compositing, and a wind machine cranked up to eleven to illustrate the stormy carnage among them. It’s an A for effort, certainly.

The second produced screenplay of Chicago playwright-cum-Hollywood heavyweight John Logan (who’d go on to write Gladiator (2000), The Aviator (2004), and Bond blockbusters Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015)), Tornado!’s plot is pretty threadbare. More shaggy dog than high octane, it concerns a corporate downsizer (Shannon Sturges) who falls in with a gaggle of Texas-based storm chasers while trying to decide whether a fancy-pants barometer thingy invented by their leader (Ernie Hudson) is worth whatever company she works for continuing to plough money into. Again, though, that’s not a slam: TV movie veteran Nosseck might be a lil’ loose with the pacing and stylistics, but he coaxes a bevy of excellent performances from his core cast and unloads a couple of very nice scenes. Sturges and Hudson are wonderfully likable, L.Q. Jones gets all the best lines as a Stetson-wearing ol’ boy (“a tornado’s got a devil’s heart and a dead soul”), and a top-billed Bruce Campbell is at his charismatic finest. Indeed, there’s real pleasure to be had watching the cutesy chemistry of Sturges and Campbell as the pair of them flirt mercilessly, and the sequence where the gang survey the aftermath of a particularly nasty cyclone does elicit the feels, irrespective of its overly calculated stab at mawk. The standout, however, comes early, when Hudson and Campbell give Sturges a crash course in tornado formation as they and a less distinguished member of Nosseck’s troupe hammer back the tequila at a redneck bar. Good-natured and matey, it’s Tornado! in a nutshell: an inoffensive, easy-going matinee-type programmer that passes the time and raises a smile or two.

A quick note on the film’s bizarre horror connections: in addition to Evil Dead (1981) hero Campbell, Tornado!’s central ranch location is the same farmhouse used in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) (minus the bones and feathers, natch), and helmer Nosseck would later lens the Sturges-starring Silent Predators (1999): a small screen snakes-on-the-loose shocker built from an old script by John Carpenter.

USA ● 1996 ● Drama, Action, TVM ● 83mins

Bruce Campbell, Shannon Sturges, Ernie Hudson, L.Q. Jones ● Dir. Noel Nosseck ● Wri. John Logan

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