Joe Versus the Volcano Review

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Bored white-collar worker Joe finally gets some excitement when he is diagnosed with a terminal 'brain cloud' and determines to pop his clogs in style by throwing himself into a tropical volcano. He is unwittingly intercepted en route by duplicitous love interest Patricia, who dutifully journeys with him to his fiery destiny.


Joe (The ever-reliable Tom Hanks) is a hypochondriac advertising manager with an ill-judged hairstyle who works for a surgical implements manufacturer ("Home of the Rectal Probe"), and his doctor tells him that he has "a brain cloud" which will finish him off within months.

Millionaire Bridges, meanwhile, is trying to acquire mineral rights in a South Pacific island, and to do so requires someone to appease the gods of Waponi-Woo by jumping into a live volcano. Step forward Joe, who, en route to said volcano, acquires a new haircut, a smart wardrobe and the company of Meg Ryan. Here she gamely plays three roles, impersonating by turn Gilda Radner, Katharine Hepburn — and Meg Ryan. Finding true love with Meg (MarkIII), Joe at last has something to live for and so hesitates on the brink.

An Oscar-winner for the screenplay for Moonstruck (later to pen, amongst others, Congo and Alive), Shanley makes his debut as director with a bizarre fable that swaddles moments of brilliance and originality in a great deal of sentimental tosh, disastrously failed comic routines and sheer guff. Boldly stylised in both the opening factory scenes — rendered like Terry Gilliam's Brazil — and the jokey tropical paradise finale, the movie nonetheless keeps dropping interesting angles it has only just raised, and halting to make speeches about the quality of life. Despite magic moments, this is so lop-sided in conception it's really only worth seeking out as a folly.

A sugary, upbeat existential adventure