Some disaster movies are lost along the road of time and in particular, there is a small selection of films that were released around the crossover period of VHS and DVD that seem to have not been picked up again for release since. Atomic Twister is one such film. A CBS flagship TV movie that many may have forgotten, it is a decent example of a low budget film weaving a tight story to entertain the viewer within its budgetary reach.
The disasters faced
Two tornadoes, a nuclear plant with plenty of things to go wrong, babysitter twister, teenager slutty periods, olympian actors and a dark subtle comedic streak from the writers.
Corrine (not that anyone pronounces the name properly) seems to have a lot on her plate. She is recently promoted at work to shift supervisor of the local nuclear plant, much to the annoyance of her male co-worker Neville, and is worried that town boy Jake is being a bad influence on her younger son Campbell. Jake is having none of it since he is just being slutty post break up from his fiancee Ashley. She seems utterly stuck up and precious so you’ll be left wondering if they’ll end up back together by the end of the movie or she will have a vicious painful death. It really could go either way. Campbell meanwhile has discovered puberty so he just wants to get a girlfriend.
This sets up everyone nicely for the tornado to hit. It strikes next to the nuclear power plant eliminating the generators. Corrine, along with Neville, dopey Potter and IT guru Gail spring into action to save the day. They need electrical power and fast. Neville makes some bold decisions whilst Corrine is out getting radio contact to issue a state of emergency via Jake. It all seems to work well until a second twister lands and hits them directly. Now in dire straits and the threat of meltdown rising by the minute, they need all the support they can get.
That support will need to come from outside via Jake. Jake will spend the entire film on the road solving problem after problem. Firstly this will be from the nuclear plant but the second twister also hits the town directly too. This puts Campbell and his babysitter Stacy into trouble. Elsewhere Ashley is also in peril. Can Jake save them all en route to saving the power plant? Will Corinne and co be able to keep the plant going until he does?
Why is it worth watching?
Atomic Twister comes from an era when these kinds of low budget, family-centric TV night spectacles were the rage. You won’t see much blood but you will get families bonding in the middle of a tornado and giving a speech of love before they run away. Whilst you may see a few action or CGI shots, it is also of the time period when a lot of happened would take place off-screen and the set design would pave the way. In some ways these films age better than the late 2000s and early 2010 disaster movies that rely on basic, cheap and woeful CGI shots and then cut to no wreckage.
Atomic Twister also has some decent actors working within the limited script they have available. Sharon Lawrence, fresh from Aftershock Earthquake in New York, does another great job albeit working with less. Mark-Paul Gosselaar is also a charismatic lead. More fun is the bonus cameo from Carl Lewis, the Olympic sprinter. In what the film shows as a continual dark streak they have Carl Lewis run away from a tornado and fail. The next we see of him he is dead against the plant building. Whilst I chuckled at the tongue in cheek humour, better yet was seeing Campbell get out a game of Twister to play with Stacy. There are a few other dark comedy hints throughout the movie which I think fans will appreciate.
The best effects here come from the wind machine. The amount of paper and garbage flying around at times is good to see, as is the post-tornado town carnage. This is a low budget affair compared to Hollywood though so when a CGI tornado is on-screen its less than impressive and just looks like a lot of dust clouds. The set design of the plant and the reactor cores is well done though and the firemen hosing everything down looks good.
Almost everyone in Atomic Twister is likeable. The main duo hold their own, Campbell is a decent child actor and the plant staff all play their roles. Interestingly there is a ‘progressive’ narrative undertone between Corrine, Gail, Potter and Neville where they all seem to be drawn into a ‘women in the workplace in charge’ argument, but it feels so underplayed that its almost a joke to them all. I must say Ashley is everything I find annoying in a spoilt teen girl but at least the character is played well.
‘They only give you a tornado warning when your house is 50 feet from where you built it!’
Three memorable moments
- Twister boobs
- The three-minute shutdown warning section
- CARL LEWIS!
The obligatory weird moment
There are a few plot points that aren’t explained particularly well but the one that confused me was when the fireman start fainting and collapsing. At first, I thought ‘oh come on, you are not tired already’ but it is not until later in the film Corinne talks about the heat. That’s probably me being thick! Instead, I’ll go for the deus ex machina finale that saves the day. If you worked in a power plant, you’d know what was in each part of the building surely?! There is also the unnoticed subplot of the sheriff who doesn’t actually leave his police station during the entire film…
The drinking game
Oh is that Jake having to pick up the pieces for someone else again?! Poor guy…have a cookie. We’ll have a drink!
Whilst it doesn’t break the mould nor do anything Nature Unleashed: Earthquake wouldn’t do slightly bigger a few years later, Atomic Twister is a safe and light disaster movie. It has silly references and some funny moments if you look for them but is one of the better put together TV one-off specials. Let us hope for an English home release soon.
Rating: 3 / 5 Good
If you liked Atomic Twister then you may like…
- Nature Unleashed: Earthquake – more nuclear power plants in trouble!
- Tornado Warning – A very similar vibe but with bigger personalities
- Night of the Twisters – For that feel-good made for TV house destruction
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