Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.
You would think – you would THINK – that having tornadoes, those terrifying twirling funnel clouds would be antagonistic enough in a movie in which daring meteorologists chase them to and fro across the Oklahoma prairie. But this, friends, is Hollywood where conflict and stakes rule all. Can’t never have enough of conflict and stakes, don’t you know, and so “Twister”, with titular rotating clouds of mayhem coming out its proverbial ears, still decided to insert a gaggle of Bad Weathermen in all black vans trying to chase the same tornadoes as the Good Weathermen. The Bad Weathermen are lorded over by Jonah Miller, played by Cary Elwes with an omnipresent sneer who fuses a modern storm chaser with sub-optimal Lionel Barrymore. And throughout the movie Dr. Miller, as he must be, is trailed by a bastion of flunkies, all of whom apparently did not know that meteorology school would one day entail mimicking the members of Biff Tannen’s gang.
Indeed, kind of like how you now recognize Billy Zane in Biff’s gang, you probably recognize particular faces in Jonah’s gang. There’s Jake Busey and Zach Greiner and Patrick Fischler. But, there is also Eric LaRay Harvey. Per IMDb he plays Eric, which is something of a letdown compared to Busey’s “Mobile Lab Technician” and Fischler’s “The Communicator” and even Greiner’s “Eddie” which is the perfect name for Dr. Miller’s #2. Not that it matters. Eric outdoes ‘em all. He never gets a line, mind you, because he’s just the Token Black Guy In The Background. But he doesn’t need a line; he just needs to laugh.
Film scholars generally agree that “Twister’s” most memorable moment is the gas station parking lot confrontation between Good Weathermen and Bad Weathermen when the Good Weathermen’s chief emeritus, Bill (Bill Paxton), realizes that his brilliant idea for placing a patented doo-hickey in a tornado’s path to scientifically gauge its innards has been pilfered by Dr. Miller. “You damn thief,” Bill declares as he knocks the baseball cap off Dr. Miller’s head. There is a little pushing and shoving and it is quickly broken up and the two men exchange a few words and appear set to go on their un-merry ways until Dr. Miller decides to get off one more zinger. Knowing that Bill has hung up his storm chasing credentials to become a TV weatherman instead, Dr. Miller scoffs: “By the way, I really enjoy your weather reports.” All on its own, this historically horrendous insult would be comedy enough, but Eric LaRay Harvey, bless his soul, decides to take this moment into the unintentional comedy stratosphere. At the conclusion of the affront, LaRay Harvey unleashes a mammoth cackle. (You can watch the scene here. Skip to 1:50 for the cackle.)
It’s just incredible to hear. It’s the kind of cackle I imagine Dennis Rodman would have unleashed circa 1996 when he was Michael Jordan’s primary enforcer and #23 had just talked some trash to, say, Detlef Schrempf. I mean, LaRay Harvey has “Eric” act like “I really enjoy your weather reports” is the sickest burn since Bill the Butcher advised in no uncertain terms that “I don’t give a tuppeny fuck about your moral conundrum, you meat-headed shit sack.” LaRay Harvey’s cackle is not just an exclamation point; it feels like a rush of insight, a glimpse behind the curtain at an entire world we don’t know existed, where scientists and TV weathermen are like the Sharks and the Jets, pitted against one another in a never-ending Battle Royale, where the manner in which you choose to employ your knowledge says more than your knowledge. You know, there was talk way back when of a “Twister” sequel but it just sort of quietly abated, maybe because they had already served up all the tornadoes that CGI could bear. But maybe it was never meant to be set in the field. Maybe it was meant to be set out of the field, at the news station, behind the desk and near the doppler. Somewhere, Hollywood, Eric LaRay Harvey waits for your call.
Pour one out for the extra.