on April 25, 1997 by Christine James
   The cliche movie-review phrase "a roller-coaster ride of a film" comes to mind here, not only because of the adrenaline-pumped way the plot races over peaks of mounting dangers and valleys of humorous repartee, but also because it's the sort of movie you are exhilarated while watching, but when it ends you wonder, "Is that it?" Of course, with the increasingly astounding feats of modern-day visual effects specialists, a finale that's anything short of the movie theatre itself blowing up is bound to be considered anticlimactic. But in "Volcano's" case the build-up markedly exceeds the payoff.
   Tommy Lee Jones stars as Mike Roark, the head of Los Angeles' Office of Emergency Management. He's supposed to be on vacation spending time with his daughter ("Now & Then's" Gaby Hoffman), but a mid-range temblor ends his holiday before it begins. When some public works employees are burned to death in an underground tunnel shortly thereafter, Roark begins to put two and two together. After advising several precautions that are ignored by the predictably short-sighted, self-concerned higher-ups, Roark seeks out the advice of spunky expert geologist Dr. Amy Barnes ("Donnie Brasco's" Anne Heche), who soon deduces that volcanic activity may be afoot.
   Before she can prove her theory, the famed LaBrea Tar Pits explode with lava, a sea of which flows onto Wilshire Boulevard, incinerating everything in its path. The decimation of cultural monuments that filmgoers have so enjoyed in such films as "John Carpenter's Escape From L.A." and "Independence Day" ensues, as the magma and fireballs take down one of L.A.'s notorious Angelyne billboards, as well as the obnoxiously self-promoting car of a local would-be actor. Some serious mayhem also transpires as occupied cars and houses are engulfed in flame and covered in lava. Roark must take charge in a panicked race-against-time scenario, organize the agog members of the city's special forces and come up with a way save L.A. The film keeps a harrowing pace, even despite a very out-of-place subplot involving an altruistic emergency room doctor whose doofus fiance keeps haranguing her to stop helping people and go into a cushy Beverly Hills plastic surgery practice. Being hit over the head with messages about racial harmony also takes the audience temporarily out of the moment. But the action, the effects and tough-as-nails Tommy Lee provide a worthwhile thrill ride--even if the last drop wasn't as big as you thought it would be.    Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman and Don Cheadle. Directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray. Produced by Neal H. Moritz and Andrew Z. Davis. A Fox release. Action/drama. Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of urban disaster and related injuries. Running time: 105 min
Tags: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Directed by Mick Jackson, Jerome Armstrong, Billy Ray, Neal H. Moritz, Andrew Z. Davis, A Fox release, Action/drama, altruistic, emergency, self-promoting, disaster

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