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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> June 2002 >> Joe Versus the Volcano

Joe Versus the Volcano

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
2 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
June 2002
IMDB Name:
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
John Patrick Shanley
comedy, romance
MPAA Rating:


Joe Versus the Volcano is the first film to put Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together. Based on this film, it's amazing they ever consented to co-star again. Ryan manages to play one part well and two parts badly in a strange use of the actor-plays-multiple-roles trick. Hanks gives a lifeless performance, even after his character is supposed to have overcome lifelessness. Distributing Hanks's affections across three different Ryan characters kills ninety percent of the chemistry, and the rest is handled by plot inanities.

This movie is dull when taken as comedy, and senseless when taken as a romance. The humor is applied with a trowel, and jokes frequently fall flat. The venerable Abe Vigoda looks miserable in the ridiculous island gear, and even when he's clearly meant to be funny, there's nothing funny about it. The whole bit with the Waponis is goofy without being good, and ends on a flabbergastingly understated downer. The filmmakers obviously had no affection for these characters, and the result is precisely the kind of portrayal that gets people in trouble with the political correctness crowd. My biggest concern with the romance side of the film is trying to decide how Patricia has time to fall in love with Joe when most of their time to that point has been spent with her unconscious. We've been watching how well he cared for her when she was comatose, but was she?

Truth in Criticism

Joe vs. the Volcano is not completely devoid of charms. Ossie Davis has a nice turn as a philosophical limo driver. Despite being obscured by the Waponi costume, a little bit of Nathan Lane seeps through. The movie's best bit, though, is at the beginning with Dan Hedaya. Hedaya is a pro who can steal any scene, even when it's nailed down in a good movie. His interaction with the phone, and to a lesser degree with Hanks, is excellent, recalling his great work in Blood Simple. Speaking of the Coen Brothers, it's precisely their manic energy that's completely absent from this film. If they can make Hudsucker Proxy work, they could definitely add the drive that would carry the audience through Joe's epic adventures. The office's set design is quite good, even if it isn't on the same scale as the Hudsucker mailroom. The casting of Hedaya, and even that early writing, is quite good. It's extrapolating from that promising start that's so hard.

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Copyright 2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.