Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton

As the title indicates, the star of this action thriller, directed by Jan De Bont (Speed), is a tornado, so the only real issue is whether the special-effects department has created sufficiently scary funnels. Yes! If The Wizard of Oz had opened with any of these monsters, Dorothy would have been knocked down dead in the middle of the Dust Bowl, and Aunt Em would have grieved forever. The computer-animated storms are roaring terrors, but beautiful too. When one slender spout splits to produce a twin, they wrap around each other in a helix, then split again into dancing triplets. The movie builds to a furious tantrum of cloud and debris, capable of hurling a tank truck, then pausing to pluck apart the planks of a fence. It's as if God, after a full course of havoc, wanted an after-dinner toothpick.

And I loved the flying cow.

The plot, which is of no significance, is about a team of tornado chasers, meteorological thrill seekers whose ambition is to insert a sensor device into the eye of tornado and create a profile of the storm from within. Hey, whatever turns you on. Paxton and Hunt, as the ex-lovers heading the project, are both good, natural actors. They scream and run for cover with total conviction. (PG-13)

Paul Hogan, Elijah Wood

Think of Flipper as Lassie with fins. This new movie version (the original 1963 film spawned two sequels, a '60s TV series and the current syndicated show) is a saltwater-soaked rendering of the classic Lassie formula: boy meets dolphin; boy adopts dolphin; boy and dolphin are threatened; dolphin saves the day. The Timmy stand-in here is a sullen adolescent (Wood) shipped off by his divorced mom to spend the summer with his bachelor uncle (Hogan), a fisherman in the Florida Keys. Adventures with a hungry hammerhead shark and a toxic dump—Flipper's sonar proves handy for finding poison chemicals—are ploddingly predictable. Been there, swam that. But what will knock your snorkels off is the movie's ravishing footage of dolphins frolicking underwater and leaping skyward. When it comes to soaring, Michael Jordan has nothing on these splendid creatures.

Flipper ought to reinforce the now 15-year-old Wood, sensitive and shirtless here, as a teenybopper pinup. Hogan cruises through as if not sure why he was hired but happy to have the job. As for the three bottle-nosed dolphins (and an animatronic model) who play Flipper, they can come on-a my pool anytime. (PG)

Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer

Back sometime in the last century, way out West, an accountant (Depp) arrives in a muddy frontier town called Machine. He has been promised a job at a metal-works factory, but his journey from Cleveland has taken two months, and the job has been given to someone else. He sleeps with the town prostitute, now reformed and trying to make a go selling paper flowers. Her old lover turns up, and bullets are exchanged. Depp, wounded and pursued by bounty hunters, flees into the woods, where he befriends a Native American nomad (Farmer) who quotes from visionary poet William Blake and looks like Benny Hill in a headdress. As another great poet once said: "Ay yi yi."

Dead Man, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise), goes on and on, one static, cute-weird scene after another. Robert Mitchum talks to a stuffed bear. Iggy Pop, in a filthy gingham frock, recounts the tale of Goldilocks. You soon give up trying to relate to anyone or anything onscreen. Instead, you drift along in a meditative haze, passively taking in the pristine black-and-white photography of the bleak forest and listening to the dreamy buzz of Neil Young's electric guitar on the soundtrack. Dead Man is the equivalent of two hours in a flotation tank. It was one of the dumbest things I've seen in a while, but I left feeling refreshed. How about that? Hell and nirvana in one film. (R)

David Schwimmer, Gwyneth Paltrow, Barbara Hershey, Carol Kane

The first half of this frail comic tale about a recent college graduate (Friends' Schwimmer) dragging his heels at entering adulthood seems so reminiscent of The Graduate that you keep half expecting "Mrs. Robinson" to blare forth from the screen. It doesn't help that Schwimmer, playing a jobless fellow who lives at home in Brooklyn with his dotty mom (Kane), has the same nasal delivery and slightly dazed look as Dustin Hoffman did in that 1967 classic. Or that he beds an older woman (Hershey) while romancing another his own age (Paltrow).

In the movie's second half, however, as Schwimmer's character begins to grow emotionally, this debut feature effort by director and co-screenwriter Matt Reeves eventually wins you over with a sweetly generous comic sensibility all its own. Schwimmer, despite spending much of Pallbearer with his mouth open in a perpetually befuddled "duh," ably conveys his character's basic decency. As for his leading ladies, the delicate Hershey seems fundamentally miscast as a tacky Brooklyn widow, while Paltrow skillfully wrings every last drop of nuance from her underwritten role. (PG-13)

>The Terminator

THE RIDE STUFF

WHEN WE LAST SAW THE TERMINATOR, the steely-eyed cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991's sci-fi blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he was reduced to a mass of molten metal, unable even to utter his ominous catchphrase, "I'll be back." But at last, Schwarzenegger is back, as are costars Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick, and director James Cameron, in a new film, Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time.

The catch: This sequel can be seen only at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando, where, since April 28, an estimated 100,000 visitors have donned 3-D glasses to ogle a 12-minute spectacle that took nearly three years—and more than $60 million—to make. In it, a rebuilt Terminator teams with Hamilton and Furlong to destroy their evil android foes, including Patrick and the new, hideously spiderlike T-1,000,000. The show features live-action doubles of Schwarzenegger and Furlong roaring across the stage on a Harley and into one of three 23-by-50-foot screens. But the neatest trick was getting the hotshot T2 stars to participate. "I told them that I thought it was a stepping stone to another film and a way to keep their characters alive in the public consciousness," says Cameron, who hopes to start writing T3 as soon as he completes Titanic (a disaster epic due out next summer).

For Schwarzenegger, who collected $1 million for 14 days of work, making the new Terminator was a refresher course on Cameron's exhausting perfectionism. "After the last movie, everyone walked away saying, 'Never again!' " Schwarzenegger recalled, chuckling, during the T2 3D shoot. "But the scars have healed, and now they're all saying, 'I love working with Cameron.' "

There is one big difference this time out. Mindful that Universal draws family audiences, Cameron (whose hyper-violent T2 got an R rating) downplayed the mayhem. For T2 3D, he explains, "I said, 'Let's not shoot Arnold's face Off.' "

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Marisa Salcines.