Opened: April 25, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
"Volcano" tries to lend itself credibility with scripted television and radio reports that narrate practically every frame of the movie. This fails to aid the believability factor one iota, but it does make the audience unconsciously reach for a mute button that isn't there.
By treating this eruption-in-L.A. flick like live news feed, director Mick Jackson ("The Bodyguard") hopes to whitewash the absurdity and fill in some of the gaping holes in the premise. The technique is clever -- Americans are conditioned to sit in awe of any breaking news (witness the O.J. Simpson low-speed chase) -- but I don't want to pay $7.50 to watch a movie imitate CNN.
After a while hearing someone describe exactly what you're seeing anyway becomes grating. Late in the film we're even subjected to "Here's a recap of the crisis as it stands..." -- who is this for, the folks who went out for popcorn?
In between these news reports we get some semblance of a story involving a city crisis manager (Tommy Lee Jones) who has his hands full with a teenage daughter (Gaby Hoffman) and a lava-submerged Wilshire Boulevard after the La Brea Tar Pits inexplicably spew forth with a volcanic explosion.
Sections of L.A. catch fire. The special effects are adequate, but the flowing lava has a bit of a spilled nail polish look about it. Then there's lots of burning landmarks followed by a few minor stunts.
With the help of a geologist (the talented Anne Heche), Jones devises suburb-saving plan that hinges on damming a Wilshire intersection with highway dividers.
You have to pretend there are no side streets the lava could ooze down, but then this is special Hollywood lava -- cool enough to stand next to while hosing it down, but hot enough to melt firemen like the Wicked Witch of the West -- and like a good professional it sticks to the script.
Things get nasty when the eruption moves into the subway tunnels and starts wreaking havoc in other parts of town.
"Volcano" was fated from it's conception -- it's just so silly -- but is made worse by a paint-by-numbers approach to the storyline. As in all encroaching doom movies, there is a surrogate audience in a control room somewhere to indicates when we should sweat, worry and celebrate. But "Volcano" takes this a step further with the whole news coverage thing -- these reporters are practically reading the script to us (I kept expecting to hear one say "fade out").
The crowning letdown is the movie's insultingly flagrant social statements that pop up whenever there's a break in the action.
A big black guy is arrested by a Fuhrman-esque cop when he insists a fire truck head for his neighborhood. Later he's let loose when they need his strength move the highway dividers. When the Wilshire flow is plugged, the same cop directs the firemen to his street. What a tender moment.
Even worse is the scene in which a little boy searching for his mother in the aftermath is asked what she looks like. He scans the ash-covered mass of humanity that has gathered at an evacuation center and says, as poignantly as he can, "Everybody looks the same."
Let's all hold hands now. Yeish.