It wasn’t at all what I expected.
It’s the story of a woman (Jami Gertz) engaged to an addict (Bill Paxton) who is trying to hide from his compulsion to seek out mortal danger without actually confronting it. The success of their relationship depends entirely on Paxton not being presented with the temptation to indulge in idiotic, poorly thought out risk-taking for the resulting adrenaline high.
The movie opens with Paxton meeting his estranged wife and fellow addict (Helen Hunt), ostensibly to get her to sign the papers finalizing their divorce. By way of “coincidence,” Paxton encounters Hunt and their familiar coterie of enablers just as they’re about to indulge their usual brand of reckless stormchasing.
After offering up token resistance, Paxton allows himself to get drawn back in to his old habit, using the preposterous excuse of an “evil rival” storm chaser (Cary Elwes) who has the temerity to have “stolen” a piece of technology Paxton developed, which is essentially a garbage can filled with ping pong balls that, as the movie demonstrates at every turn, is impractical and wildly ineffective. Paxton’s need to frame his own thrill-seeking as courage and integrity runs so deep that he openly scorns Elwes for being a corporate sell-out, oblivious to the extraordinary achievement of getting corporate sponsorship for an activity that, as Paxton’s haphazard crew demonstrates, is normally funded on a shoestring.
Gertz tries to understand her fiance’s compulsion, but only winds up enabling it and can only watch helplessly as Paxton and Hunt goad each other into worse and worse decisions. Spurred by their insatiable need for that next fix, their recklessness nearly gets them killed by the very first tornado they encounter and destroys thousands of dollars worth of equipment they can ill-afford to loose. But rather than take a sober inventory of the mistakes that led them to this place, Paxton and Hunt are giddy with glee, their hangers-on patting them on the back and supporting their incompetence.
Gertz tries to accept her beloved’s disease, but it’s useless. She’s an outsider in this world, this fellowship of addicts. She at last realizes that Paxton will never even admit he has a problem, much less confront it, and leaves him.
The rest of the movie is spent validating her choice. In a surprising turn, the movie ends with Paxton and Hunt being killed when their need to manufacture one crisis after another puts them in the path of a monstrous F-5 tornado. The denouement is an extended hallucination sequence as they lay dying from injuries, letting their fantasies play out within their own terminally savaged brains. Their rival dies in the most cartoonish tornado-related event ever filmed that doesn’t involve sharks, Paxton’s ill-conceived gadget works, they get to see the inside of the obsession which has consumed and ultimately destroyed them, they kiss to the adulation of their hangers-on, fade to the sweet release of death.
It’s honestly kind of brilliant. Seriously, there are people who don’t like this?