VOLCANO obviously seemed a more sure-fire title than ‘The Great La Brea Tar Pit Burp’ even though the lava that flows forth in this 1997 disaster flick (naysayers will skip the word ‘flick’) does not drool down a hitherto smog-hidden mountain in Los Angeles (Anaheim’s benign Matterhorn producing a different type of barf) but from the famed pitch bubble oozer that trapped countless prehistoric critters long before there was a reason to make a Wilshire Blvd. pilgrimage east to Hancock Park.
Ad Tagline: “The Coast is Toast.”
‘Mike Roark’ (Tommy Lee Jones), L.A.’s director of the Office of Emergency Management, investigates some scalding deaths (workers in a storm drain) after a small earthquake. Seismologist ‘Amy Barnes’ (Anne Heche) thinks volcanic activity is afoot (or underfoot), but of course higher-ups pooh-pooh the warnings. Naturally, per Screenwriting101, Mike’s daughter will be in imminent danger when the hammer drops. It drop up, when the La Brea Tar Pits can the lazy act and belch with fiery explosions, hurtling rock bombs and gushing molten lava, threatening to drive real estate prices into the ionosphere. The special effects, whipped up by 300 technicians of assorted arts & crafts, are pretty neat. Other actors caught in the ‘look aghast’ zone include Gaby Hoffmann, Don Cheadle and Keith David.
Slapdash directed by Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, The Bodyguard), clumsily written by Jerome Armstong (he hatched the idea, this was his only screenplay) and Billy Ray (lots of solid screenplay credits). You don’t look for a ton of accuracy or logic in destruction spectacles like this, but there are enough volcanic activity errors here to stuff a caldera. The actors do their job, but you don’t much care what happens to anyone. Kids will enjoy the blazing goop, so what the heck.
Though the immolation of a trendy chunk of La La drew enough firebugs to put it 38th among the year’s grossers with $49,323,000 the homeblown end of a worldwide $122,800,000 that was still not enough carnage cash to cover the $90,000,000 expended. Further burning the producers was that rival vulcan Dante’s Peak out-blasted it. *
With Jacqueline Kim, John Corbett, Michael Rispoli, John Carroll Lynch, Richard Schiff. The pyrotechnics wrap up in the standard 102 minutes.
* Water quenches fire. Volcano and Dante’s Peak were sparklers in a tsunami against the 1997 leviathan of Titanic, whose domestic gross alone was more than twice their combined worldwide takes.