Michael Almereyda’s “Twister” (at the Nuart) is set in a modern boozy Kansas, where flaky rich kids float off on a sea of alcohol and boredom. It’s a movie with a slight buzz on: a charming, trance-like fantasy soggily alive to strange spasms and tics of character.
First-time director Almereyda based this movie on Mary Robinson’s 1980 novel “Oh” – which the writer says is about “the fraily of adulthood, the frailty of love.” That describes the plight of most of the central characters seem arrested in adolescence, especially siblings Maureen and Howdy Cleveland (Suzy Amis and Crispin Glover). Unwed mother Maureen, or “Mo,” has the face of a corn-silk Botticelli with a spray of Sissy Spacek freckles. She’s given to slouching, tantrums petulant pouts.
Brother Howdy is the real odd-ball: dressed in black with fluttery eyes and Renaissance bangs, he’s given to cracking whips, striking Byronic poses and droning awful self-composed dirges that try to fuse new-wave rock with Gaelic poetry (“Daddy was mean” is his main theme). Howdy is an “artist” the way many bored, bright, lazy, self-indulgent rich kids are artists: their writing, painting or movies are just like his “songs.” And Glover makes him a classic poseur-hysteric: fracturing his delivery so hilariously that every word is filigreed to death and every gesture is a goony ballet.
The Cleveland kids’ dad, Eugene the soda pop king is played by Harry Dean Stanton with almost hair-raising delicacy and control: as someone so inured to his family – or so soused himself – that he’s beyond amazement.
Like Dorothy, the characters including Mo’s ex-lover (Dylan McDermott) and a bemused black maid (Charlaine Woodard) suffer through a tornado. But it doesn’t spin them into any magic kingdom. They simply wake up dazed again, in another unbearably unstructured day. What Almereyda has drawn here – with a mood that, except for its absence of zoom shots, irresistibly recalls the vaguely narcotized, real-surreal atmosphere of Robert Altman’s ‘70s films – is the dilemma of a family sunk in riches and without a clue to do with them.
Setting the movie in Kansas – that flat land of pales skies, with its echoes of both Oz and “In Cold Blood” – heightens the surreality. It suggests the magic that won’t come, the terror that might.
“Twister” (rated PG-13) may not have special effects or taut structure, but it has something movies with real-looking tornados usually miss: intelligence, surprise, a flair for the craziness of the everyday.