Picks and Pans Review: Volcano

Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche

When a movie is called Volcano, you want to see lava. Lots of it. Happily, Volcano pours on the magma. Unlike the lava-stingy Dante’s Peak earlier this year, Volcano offers wave after molten wave of the stuff.

It’s a given in disaster films that plot and performances ride shotgun to the special effects, and so it is in Volcano. The fiery orange lava, much of it computer-generated, is the main show, while the L.A.-based story and characters are merely a means of marking time between spectacular lava bursts, fireballs and gargantuan explosions. The movie’s hero (Jones, playing the head of L.A.’s emergency services) and heroine (Heche, a seismologist) sense that something funny is going on when fountains boil and folks caught in underground tunnels melt. Soon, manhole covers along Wilshire Boulevard are popping like champagne corks, followed by gushing geysers of guess what. Jones and Heche must hurriedly figure out where the heck all this lava is coming from and how to stop it before, as the movie’s clever ad slogan goes, the coast is toast.

Jones is solidly effective as a gruffly determined bureaucrat, while Heche, as the Ph.D.-holding scientist, is convincingly spunky. (For more on her, see page 129.) Volcano loses points for its de rigueur disaster-picture scene in which an imperiled dog survives, but director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) makes up for it by slipping in cheeky touches such as having a Hieronymus Bosch (the 15th-century Dutch painter famous for his eye-popping visions of hell) exhibit at a lava-engulfed art museum. (PG-13)

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