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Joe Versus the Volcano Reviews

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO is a thoroughly captivating romantic adventure in the grand tradition of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s. With a plot flavored with elements from such classics as the Carole Lombard-Fredric March romp NOTHING SACRED and Frank Capra's delightful masterpiece YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, this Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan outing is writer-director John Patrick Shanley's gift to moviegoers who are tired of films distinctive only for their excessive violence, sex, gutter language, or a combination of all three. What this picture may lack in depth of characterization or substance, it more than makes up for in the sheer joy of watching Hanks and Ryan at work. Like a young Tracy and Hepburn, Hanks and Ryan exude that certain special, unexplainable, but magical quality that spells success for a screen pair. Both are in top form here, and both are scene stealers, with Ryan, perhaps, having the edge--but only because she plays three entirely different characters (all delicious) to Hanks' one, the gray young hypochondriac Joe. As enjoyable as Hanks is during his every moment of screen time, Ryan melts one's heart with her triple-threat performance: first as Joe's mousey, bespectacled coworker at the medical supply manufacturing plant where he feels trapped in a life of constant drudgery; then as a snappy pair of half-sisters, who enter Joe's drab--but soon-to-be-changed--life in a most unusual way. Someone has decided to take full advantage of Joe's hypochondria, and the half-sisters, red-haired Angelica and blonde Patricia, play a significant, though unwitting, part in this elaborate ploy. Joe, whose boring lifestyle and confining job are enough to do anyone in, decides to visit the company doctor (Robert Stack). Joe is told he has a "brain-cloud," a rare malady that leaves people feeling great until they suddenly die. Since Joe assumes he has only a few months to live, he's ripe for the proposition made to him by Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges), the billionaire who shows up at Joe's bachelor flat the following morning. Joe accepts Graynamore's offer of instant wealth (via unlimited use of credit cards) and a few days of all-stops-out fun and frolic in exchange for his life. Graynamore's continued affluence depends upon a rare mineral found only on the Pacific Island of Waponi Woo, but this source will soon dry up if the natives aren't appeased by some volunteer willing to leap into their active volcano as a sacrifice to save the island. Since he is going to kick the bucket soon anyway, Joe reasons, why not make the end more meaningful by doing Graynamore this one little favor? The adventure begins with Angelica, the redhead, who looks and sounds like a bubbly 1960s flower child. She introduces Joe to Patricia, the brave and daring skipper of a charming little schooner. While the film gets off to a slow start, once the high seas adventure begins, it's fullsail entertainment, with the gloriously expansive Pacific seascapes provided by cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt nearly as engaging as Hanks' and Ryan's performances. A visually beautiful endeavor further enhanced by production designer Bo Welch's imaginative South Sea island setting and by a heartwarming score from Georges Delerue, the film ultimately becomes an odyssey of faith, hope, and courage, culminating in a completely sincere portrayal of the love and devotion that blossoms between Joe and Patricia. Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (MOONSTRUCK; FOUR CORNERS; THE JANUARY MAN) makes an impressive directorial bow, proving himself to be a director with a flair for telling a fanciful yarn in pure cinematic terms--no mean trick. It's one thing to shoot a down-to-earth cop movie set amidst the gritty realism of a major American metropolis, but to be able to captivate an audience with a work of pure wit and unadulterated fantasy is nothing short of genius. Despite some unevenness in Shanley's direction, especially during the early sequences at the medical supply company, his overall work--both as director and screenwriter--deserves applause. In particular, some of his dialog is extremely touching. Hanks and Ryan are well supported by the likes of Stack, Bridges, Abe Vigoda (in a funny cameo as a native chieftain), Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis (as a sly limo driver). The filmmakers also make clever use of four large trunks that Joe innovatively straps together to make a life raft. Whats more, Hanks' impromptu "funky chicken" dance routine while standing atop this raft is hilarious. Ryan's delectable, but all too brief, appearance as the spunky Angelica is also especially memorable. Fortunately, we get to see even more of Ryan's wonderful turn as Patricia. (Profanity.)