We are doomed, it seems, to watch Hollywood play out its fascination with technology. So excited are the studio bosses about the ability of machines to blend fantasy and reality that they assume we will be forever satisfied with trying to spot the difference. "Volcano" and "Breakdown" are two standard-fare catastrophe movies in which humans are mere afterthoughts to the machines that produce the action.
It has been reliably reported that the lava in "Volcano" was made from the same stuff that makes McDonald's milkshakes appetizing to so many millions. Just the right flow apparently, with a touch of ash here, a few cinders there, and it flows down the computerized canyons of Los Angeles just the way it slides down the gullets of gulping Americans.
Los Angeles, accustomed as it is to earthquakes, is stunned by a volcano in its midst. As tar pits flow, cars melt, and lava bombs fly, the comic understatement of this season may well be, "Get those first-aid kits." Heroes triumph and evildoers burn while an exactly politically correct cast navigates the chaos. In this choice situation, looters seize on the carnage to do what they love best. Their nasty deeds are balanced, of course, by acts of bravery among the citizenry and the L.A.P.D., who try, with fire hoses, to contain the rolling, molten mass that rushes toward them.
We can be forgiven for wondering why the whole town doesn't turn and run. A night or two up the coast until things settle down? Only two things keep this tediously computerized movie afloat: Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche. Each has enough credibility to make us almost believe they can save their town. Angry at a city that would build a subway in seismically-impaired ground, Heche's character watches the subway become a lava tube and rails, "This city is finally going to pay the price for its arrogance." Yes, and perhaps someday the special effects crowd will pay the price for theirs.
"Breakdown," on the other hand, is a personal drama with a strong message: when you drive across the country in Yuppie clothes with an eastern license plate, watch the mechanic carefully when he checks your oil. Jeff (Kurt Russell) and Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are heading for a new life through spectacular western scenery when Amy disappears. Kurt Russell is adequate as the worried husband, Kathleen Quinlan, OK in the few moments she has before disappearing into the midst of the evil westerners, but only the scenery is inspired.
At first Jeff's fear engulfs us. He is alone and terrified in unfamiliar territory. Then, in a downward spiral that pits the poor fellow against one vicious villain after another, the movie becomes absurdly overblown. In yet another Hollywood moment, the antagonists battle it out as they hang from the cab of an eighteen-wheeler suspended over the edge of a high bridge. Mark this one OV for outrageous violence, and move on to the next.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : 20th Century Fox and Paramount
Rating : PG-13 & R
Running Time: 1h42m, 1h33m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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