Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis
Written by: John Patrick Shanley
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 102
Date: 03/09/1990

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Playwright John Patrick Shanley made his movie directing debut with this defiantly strange, totally under-appreciated, yet completely wonderful romantic comedy. The movie's design is astounding, beginning with a buzzing, miserable office setting and heading quickly toward a multicolored tropical paradise. Tom Hanks stars as Joe, who works a soul-sucking job and learns he is dying of a "brain cloud." He agrees to be the human sacrifice for an island of volcano worshippers, granting them another century of peace; Abe Vigoda playing the island chief is one of my favorite things in the world. Joe's decision is financed by a wealthy industrialist (Lloyd Bridges) who wants mining rights on the island. On the way there, he meets three women, all played by Meg Ryan (arguably her best role), in very different ways. Shanley's visual rhythms match his weird, warm dialogue; he seems to be a natural-born filmmaker. Sadly, in the 25 years since, he has only made one other film, Doubt (which proves my point). The movie was met with confused and indifferent responses, but maybe if they saw it in Hawaii, as I did, they would have loved it as much as I did, and still do.

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