Lava Fare

Explosive Volcano heats up love/hate relationship with L.A.

Perhaps I'm asking too much from this kind of film. But Volcano is just off-center and squiggly enough to make you wish the filmmakers had jettisoned the usual disaster-movie plot mechanics and gotten really nasty-funky. It's still the wittiest entry in the trash-L.A. genre. Mick Jackson made his valentine to Los Angeles with the 1991 Steve Martin comedy L.A. Story, and that was such a sweet little picture he probably thought his next greeting card should be more appropriate for Halloween.

Jackson's a Brit, and even though he now lives in L.A., he probably still sees the city as a bemused outsider. That bemusement serves him equally well whether he's torching the town or smothering it with wet kisses. Either way, L.A. is no more real to him than a theme park. That's how he's able to send it up with such impunity.

But Jackson doesn't take our love/hate L.A. fantasies to the max. His theme park has too many themes. He balances the good jokes with dreary stuff about an emergency-room physician (Jacqueline Kim) risking her own life to save others. There's a why-can't-we-all-just-get-along section featuring a racist white cop who handcuffs a black brother until he realizes four hands are better than two when it comes to stopping Mr. Lava. The volcano seals up their racial divide.

As bubble-icious as the lava is in Volcano, the filmmakers end up giving it short shrift. The triumph of man over magma is depicted with the kind of high-five hoopla that makes us think we're watching an ESPN special. And the final shot of L.A.'s very own volcano--which should be both hilarious and terrifying--is barely a blip on the screen before the credits encroach.

Yet you still walk out of the film in a strangely mellow mood. There's a lot of bile fueling the L.A.-disaster-movie genre, but in Volcano, the bile doesn't eat away at the fun. What the filmmakers are saying is, Yes, maybe Los Angeles should blow sky-high, but we'll sure miss having it around. Probably most of us in the audience feel the same way.

Volcano
Directed by Mick Jackson; with Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle and Gaby Hoffmann.

Rated

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