I am under increasing pressure to diversify my choice in movies to review. Well, as I may have mentioned before, I will avoid a chick flick as best I can. That’s right, I said chick flick, like it or not — it’s out there now. Anyway, I have looked through my vast archives in search of a movie to squash these unfounded complaints about the movies lucky enough to be reviewed on this site: Joe Versus The Volcano. I hope the fact that I think this is a great movie does not throw the integrity of everything else I write about into doubt.
Based on some of my research, it seems that JVTV has become an industry joke. Because of the movies’ low revenue, one does not need to be a Hollywood insider to figure out why it is viewed as a joke and as one of Hanks’ minor films. Though I am not a big Tom Hanks fan (yes, I know he has won awards, made lots of movies, et cetera) he and Meg Ryan (in all three of her characters) do very well in JVTV. Hanks and Ryan aside, what I really like about this movie are the minor characters played by bigger names. There is Joe’s unpleasant and demanding boss, Frank Waturi (played by Dan Hedaya), Robert Stack assumes the role of the Doctor, Abe Vigoda plays the Waponi chief and Kirk Douglas plays the wealthy industrialist.
Now on to the movie. Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) is a downtrodden everyman, working in a factory for a horribly unpleasant boss, Frank Waturi (Dan Hedaya). Listless and chronically sick, Banks habitually visits doctors who find nothing physiologically wrong with him. Eventually Dr. Ellison (Robert Stack), diagnoses Banks with a fatal disease called a “brain cloud,” a disease that has no symptoms and will kill Joe within six months.
Upon learning this news, Joe tells his boss off, quits his job, and asks former co-worker DeDe (Meg Ryan) out on a date that seems to be going quite well, until he tells her that he is dying, at which time she becomes very upset and leaves.
The next morning Samuel Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) unexpectedly shows up at Joe’s house and makes him a proposition. Graynamore needs “bubaru,” a mineral required to manufacture superconductors. The tiny Pacific island of Waponi Wu, and the resident Waponis, have the largest deposit of bubaru in the world. They will let him mine it if he can solve a problem for them. Their culture believes that the volcano on their island must be appeased by a voluntary human sacrifice once every century, but none of the Waponis are willing to volunteer this time around. If Graynamore can find a sacrificial lamb, he can have the mineral rights to the island. Graynamore gives Joe carte blanche to enjoy his final days, as long as he is willing to jump into the volcano at the end, suggesting that he “live like a king, die like a man.” With nothing to lose, Joe accepts.
Joe spends the day shopping and the night at the Pierre Hotel in New York, where he solicits advice on everything from style to living life to the fullest from his wise chauffeur, Marshall (Ossie Davis). In my favorite scene, Joe purchases four magnificent, handcrafted, waterproof steamer trunks from a fanatically dedicated luggage salesman (Barry McGovern).
The next morning, Joe goes to a yacht owned by Graynamore and captained by Patricia (Meg Ryan’s third character). She had reluctantly agreed to take Joe to Waponi Wu after Graynamore promised to give her the yacht in return.
During the voyage, they run into bad weather and Patricia is knocked unconscious and flung overboard. Joe jumps in after her and lightning strikes and sinks the yacht. Joe constructs a raft by lashing together his steamer trunks. Patricia does not regain consciousness for several days while Joe doles out the small supply of water to her and gradually becomes delirious from thirst. Eventually the two of them find that they have drifted to their destination.
The Waponis treat them to a grand feast. Their chief (Abe Vigoda) asks one last time if anyone else will volunteer, but there are no takers and Joe heads for the volcano. Patricia tries to stop him, declaring her love for him. He admits he loves her as well, “but the timing stinks.” Patricia gets the chief to marry them.
Afterwards, Patricia refuses to be separated from Joe. When he is unable to dissuade her, they jump in together, but the volcano erupts at that moment, blowing them out into the ocean. The island sinks, but Joe and Patricia land near their trusty steamer trunks. At first ecstatic about their miraculous salvation, Joe puts a damper on things by telling Patricia about his fatal brain cloud. She recognizes the name of Joe’s doctor as that of her father’s crony and realizes that Joe has been lied to. He is not dying and they can live happily ever after (if they can survive being on a raft in the middle of the ocean).
I’ll be the first to admit this movie is not for everyone. Some will find the movie at best amusing and at worst tripe, but I think it’s great.