[box cover]

Joe Versus the Volcano

Once upon a time, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made a romantic comedy that was so far out of the mainstream that, well, nobody liked it. Luckily for their careers, Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) was pretty much forgotten after Sleepless in Seattle (1993) came out a few years later; luckily for people who like their films "different," writer/director John Patrick Shanley's surreal fable about a guy who rediscovers the meaning of life is still around. In many ways, Joe was ahead of its time: Echoes of Joe's (Hanks) dismal, decaying office — buried in the basement of a medical supply company that specializes in rectal probes — can be seen in more recent work-skewering movies like Office Space and Haiku Tunnel, and, in spots, its fractured-fairy tale tone is reminiscent of alternate-reality films like The Royal Tennenbaums. Unfortunately, Joe never quite lives up to its potential, indulging in a little too much quirkiness-for-quirkiness' sake. The movie's biggest transgression is having Ryan play all three of the women Joe meets on his journey from leading a life of quiet desperation to becoming a banzai volcano-jumper. As ditzy DeDe and over-the-top Angelica, Ryan seems a little too excited about playing against type and doing something "different"; then, as sailboat captain Patricia, she falls right back into her typical feisty-but-vulnerable persona. Hanks, meanwhile, does a decent job (as usual) of making Joe's reactions and motivations seem like those of the American Everyman — or at least the Everyman With Six Months Left to Live and the Chance to Jump Into a Volcano. In the supporting cast, Lloyd Bridges is good for a few laughs as crazy old coot Samuel Harvey Graynamore, and Ossie Davis has some great moments as opinionated limo driver Marshall. In the end, Joe is a little too light on the laughs — and the guys at ILM must have given the movie's special effects work to their interns — but it's also a watchable story about changing your destiny and learning to seize the day. It's a good fit for home theaters, and Warner Brothers' DVD release should please fans — while the movie looks a little grainy in spots, the new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is strong overall (dig that moon rising over the ocean), and the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is clear. Dolby 2.0 Surround is also available, as are French and Japanese mono tracks and several subtitle choices. In addition to the trailer and cast and crew credits (with filmographies for Hanks and Ryan), the disc offers the video for Eric Burdon's "Sixteen Tons" and a vintage four-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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