Theoretically, SyFy “original movies”—the subgenre that introduced the word “sharktopus” to the world—ought to have a blatant, old-school charm, redolent of drive-ins, late-night TV horror hosts, and those videos that were lying around the house all weekend because somebody made a last-minute decision not to go out on Friday night, and there was nothing else left on the shelves at the rental place that wasn’t by Merchant-Ivory. In actuality, SyFy original movies tend to suck in such a half-assed way that they suck all the fun out of schlock. Still, if you have any fond memories at all of what it was like, before you were old enough to get your hands on the car, to spend hour after hour in front of the TV, flipping channels in the vain hope of finding something that might pass for a cheap thrill, you might be susceptible to the fantasy that it would be a giggle to sit through long stretches of bad exposition and lame dialogue, delivered in front of a green screen by some older actors who’ve seen better days and some younger ones who never will, just to get a look at a hastily assembled monster. It’s a fantasy that depends on the idea that the movie has at least the promise of delivering a monster worth shaking a stick at. In Space Twisters, the monster is bad weather.
Twisters is set in a remote, jerkwater burg that consists mostly of vacant lots, empty fields, and areas that look like they used to be garbage dumps until the garbage got bored and left. Most of the characters we meet are either teenagers headed for a weekend detention, or their parents. The young leads are Will and Megan, who are hard at work on their science fair project—especially, everyone thinks, Megan, ‘cause she’s the smart one. Soon, the sky turns black and bolts of lightning start taking out all the power sources and most of the people in the area. And not just in this area: A TV news report informs us that New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D. C. have also been hard hit. We don’t really get to see the carnage and devastation in any of these places that are probably much more interesting than the town we’re stuck in, but as a consolation prize, we do get to see a lightning bolt impale a particularly obnoxious secondary character before vaporizing him.
Before the night is out, Will will have blown the minds of his own parents by sheepishly admitting that he is, in fact, a genius, who did most of the heavy lifting on the science project, and also on the rocket that he and Megan’s cracked dad (Mitch Pileggi) have been building in the barn. When Will’s mom doubts that her kid has first-class brains, Mitch Pileggi tells her that it was Will who “invented the particle contractor and half the parts” of his dream rocket. “Particle contractor” is one of those terms that the show throws around when it wants to sound scientific, and that viewers who are basically scientifically illiterate will be disappointed when they run it through their Google search engine. There are also “esposones,” which I think are bad, and “bosones”, which can be used to keep the esposones at bay, I think. I don’t remember anyone referring to unobtainium, but that’s the basic idea. I don’t know that actual science, or even convincingly faked science, is all that relevant to a movie in which Mitch Pileggi is up high on a pole, only to fall to the ground after electricity engulfs his tower, after which he’s found huddled on the ground, but still alive. The one scientific principle in the movie that I actually understand is the one guiding Pileggi’s character, which is that it’s very hard to kill the closest thing you have to a name player in your cast.
Hurrying to the rescue, kind of, are a couple of scientists—one of those hot chicks who has the smoldering-librarian thing going on underneath her glasses and hair, and her flaming-douchebag associate—who have been monitoring the troubling recent disappearance of the “red spot” from the planet Jupiter. Madame Librarian has been reading all about Will and Megan’s science fair project and realizes that they’ve cracked some essential code. The douchebag sneers at this idea until she shows him some of the data, and then he’s floored: Damned if Will hasn’t proven “the Fralinger hypothesis.”
Part of him is so troubled by the implications of it all—”There’s a reason,” he mutters darkly, “it’s called the destruction particle.”—but his better nature and scientific curiosity get the better of him, and so he and Hot Librarian jump into a small plane and fly straight into a weather formation that would have caused the tornado in The Wizard Of Oz to lose it in its pants. Do they get to where they’re going, and do they both make it there in one piece? I will refer you to that other scientific principle that states that if one character is needed to deliver some all-important exposition to some characters far away, and another character is needed strictly for purposes of transportation—apparently on the theory that the audience will balk if someone says, “I’m the only one who can enlighten those poor hillbillies about what’s going on, and what’s more, I have a pilot’s license and can fly my own plane"—you can bet that at least one of these characters will not still be standing after he’s served his purpose.
In the end, Mitch Pileggi sacrifices himself for the good of the planet, the evil weather is vanquished, and Will’s parents, Will, and Megan are apparently left to repopulate the Earth to the best of their abilities. The problem with these SyFy things isn’t that they aim to supply cheap thrills; we’re all down with that. The problem with them is that they only get the “cheap” part right.