VolcanoApril 25, 1997
A volcano erupts in downtown L.A., threatening to destroy the city.
Release Year: 1997
Rating: 5.2/10 (29,044 voted)
Critic's Score: 55/100
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffmann
Something unspeakably chilling is ultimately starting to heat up at The City of Los Angles! Beneath the famed La Brea Tar Pits, a raging volcano has formed, raining a storm of deadly fire bombs and an endless tide of white-hot lava upon the stunned city!
Writers: Jerome Armstrong, Jerome Armstrong
Tommy Lee Jones
Dr. Amy Barnes
Dr. Jaye Calder
Police Lieutenant Ed Fox
John Carroll Lynch
L.A. Fire Chief
(as James G. MacDonald)
The Coast Is Toast
Release Date: 25 April 1997
Filming Locations: 190th Street & Western Avenue, Torrance, California, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $14,581,740
(27 April 1997)
Did You Know?
An elaborate miniaturized portion of the doomed city, which was destroyed as the lava flowed, was constructed inside hangar #1 at the San Bernardino International Airport.
In one shot, the last of four SALE flags fall into the lava. In the next shot, the flags are still burning on the building.
[Roark ordered 200 "K-rails" (freeway dividers) to redirect the lava. Trucks arrive with only 82]
Where's the rest of 'em?
What "rest of 'em?" This is it!
Hey, there only about eighty here!
Eighty-two; everything else is stuck on the 5 and the 10.
We're trying to keep the city in one piece, pinhead. Eighty rails ain't gonna do it!
So what are you blaming me for?
The script is the real natural disaster in "Volcano"
Watching Mick Jackson's disaster flick, in which the eponymous natural
disaster wreaks havoc throughout Los Angeles, is like watching a 3 a.m.
infomercial. It's such silly, mindless fluff, yet there's just something
about it that keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
"Volcano" is admittedly well-cast and acted, despite a dreadful script and
plot whose summary could fit on a matchbook. Tommy Lee Jones, who would
110% making a McDonald's commercial, stars as Mike Roark, the hard-boiled
head of the Office of Emergency Management, where he is assisted by his
sidekick Emmit (Don Cheadle). After initially pooh-poohing the thought of
volcano in L.A. from geologist Amy Barnes (Anne Heche, who constantly ends
her lines with a four-letter word like a period after a sentence), it's
a matter of time before he is proved wrong before his very eyes. Other
performances come from Jacqueline Kim (Dr. Calder), John Carroll Lynch
(Stan, the oft-maligned subway boss), and Keith David, a great actor who
otherwise wasted here in a role as a police lieutenant who has no impact
any events in the film, which is halfway over before he even appears on
screen for the first time.
However, there's the small problem of having something resembling a good
story to go with the awesome visuals, which are indeed spectacular. But
forget the volcano; Jerome Armstrong's script poses the greatest threat to
the characters. To put it mildly, it's the biggest piece of cliché-ridden
muck to come along in awhile, laden with plot holes, smarmy sentimentality
(the offender here being a dog rescue scene near the beginning) and
forced we-are-all-brothers morals, and implausibilities. Yes, this film is
rooted far from reality, but it should make a little sense along the way.
Working at the OEM must be the cushiest job in the world, for all the
employees do throughout the picture is holler at each other and stare
blankly at computer monitors. (And why do they continuously show news
broadcasts on their big screen? Is that where their disaster briefings
from?) Mike's sullen daughter (Gaby Hoffmann, in a thankless role in the
tradition of "True Lies" and "Face/Off"), due to her own incompetence, is
suddenly thrust into peril and is thus separated from her father, a
that helps build up what turns out to be one great big joke of an ending.
Describing it here can't do it justice. (After being taken to the hospital
in Dr. Calder's Land Rover to receive treatment for a second-degree burn
her right leg, she is seen some time later with a bloody scab on her left
cheek as she talks to Mike on the phone. And you thought your HMO was
rough.) Plus, I seriously doubt that someone who jumps right into a pool
hot lava would slowly melt like a snowman in Miami while he screams and
tosses the body of a man nearly twice his size to safety from a burning
subway train. Then there's the wonderful family-oriented scene of two
firemen burned alive in their overturned truck.
And, lest we forget that "Volcano" takes place in L.A., there's the
obligatory racist-cop episode in which a black man asking the fire chief
help his neighborhood is suddenly handcuffed out of nowhere by an officer
for "harassing" him, a tacky scene complete with (groan) references to
Rodney King and Mark Fuhrman. (The whole time he's cuffed, the black man
makes carefree wisecracks to the officers all while his 'hood is burning
cinders.) But, of course, everything's eventually resolved. "You're a good
man," the other cop praises his partner after the latter grudgingly
dispatches fire trucks to the black man's neighborhood, as if he has
performed some immense display of generosity.
In another lovely homage to L.A., there's also a looting scene, where
run incredibly slow while carrying empty boxes.
And what in the world was with the constant barrage of news reporters? Did
we really need someone reporting "The house behind me has just exploded
flames…all hell is breaking loose!" while people were running for their
lives all around her? As the volcano explodes out of the La Brea Tar Pits
and lava is running onto the street, it's from a reporter describing this
sight from where we hear one of the worst lines in the film: "It's as if
tar had caught fire, melted and somehow expanded." Hey, McFly, if tar is
already a liquid to begin with, then how in the world can it melt?
When an army of helicopters drops gallons of water on the lava blocked off
on Wilshire, the reporters and camera crews, who are camped right up
the concrete barriers, manage to stay conveniently dry the entire
Despite a high body count, scores of injured civilians and billions of
dollars in damages, everybody's smiling as soon as a rainfall ensues, like
those 7up commercials circa 1986. ("Feels so good comin' down!" Remember
that?) Lots of questions are left unanswered: How will they clean up and
repair everything? Will a future eruption occur soon? Will the Cubs win
Yet for all its pretentiousness and gaping flaws, I have to admit that
"Volcano" was entertaining. It's a load of escapist camp that doesn't have
care in the world. And I do have to give credit where it's due; somehow
filmmakers managed to keep slow-moving lava exciting for 104 minutes.
Plus, you can't help but get a kick out of a disaster film that includes
line "This city's finally paying for its arrogance," and finds the time to
include a Bible quotation. 7/10