Friday 2 March 2018

Movie Review: Volcano (1997)

A disaster action film, Volcano features an overabundance of special effects but no soul - and no volcano.

Los Angeles is hit by a seemingly routine earthquake. Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) is the head of the city's Office of Emergency Management, trying to enjoy his vacation with daughter Kelly (Gaby Hoffman). His second-in- command is Emmit Reese (Don Cheadle). At MacArthur Park, seven city workers are killed after the quake, seemingly burned to death in an underground release of extreme heat. Mike calls on geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) to try and understand what may be going on.

Amy notices a steep rise in the water temperature of the park's lake, and deduces that the quakes may have caused a release of hot gases and lava. Mike tries to shut down the Metro transit line in the area, but to no avail. Soon lava bombs burst out of the ground along Wilshire Boulevard, followed by an eruption of a sea of creeping magma that incinerates everything it touches. Mike and Amy have to figure out a way to stop the carnage and save Kelly, who ends up helping Dr. Jaye Calder (Jacqueline Kim) at an overwhelmed hospital.

Directed by Mick Jackson, Volcano enjoys a decent opening 30 minutes of ominous scene setting but then falls apart. As soon as the earthquake hits and the lava starts to ooze out, all the drama and tension ironically seep out of the film. The flying fireballs are at first exciting, but there are only so many computer-created scenes of a flowing hot magma river causing fake fires that can be thrown at the screen before the whole premise starts to look ridiculous.

The film's real problems then arrive with the hopeless attempts to give Mike and Amy something to actually do. Other than repeatedly getting themselves into tight corners surrounded by the burning stuff, the heroes here are reduced to childish solutions. Let's topple a bus in the path of the lava! Let's knock down a building in the path of the lava! It's as ridiculous as that, and Volcano never engages in anything resembling smart problem solving.

Jackson equally avoids any investments in his characters, who all appear to be borrowed as a package from other and better disaster movies, including the egotistical developer who shows his true colours under stress.

Tommy Lee Jones tries but fails to appear serious in the face of all special effects, but often he's not quite sure where to look or how to act because all the carnage was added later by the computer guys. Anne Heche does not seem to try to convince as a geologist. Don Cheadle spends the film in a room full of phones and computer monitors, but it's never clear if his character actually contributes anything to resolve the unfolding crisis.

Volcano is an eruption of mundane silliness, not so much a disaster as an intellectually challenged bore.

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