By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
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.
Directed by Mick Jackson; with Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle and Gaby Hoffmann.
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