Hollywood’s summer gets an early start today with “Volcano,” the first major special-effects flick of the big movie season.
As disaster epics go, it’s a giant step up from “Dante’s Peak.” And if the new film isn’t as thrilling as “Twister” or “Independence Day,” at least you don’t start looking for an evacuation route within 15 minutes.
One thing “Volcano” has going for it is its cast, which is among the best of any modern disaster movie.
The always-volcanic Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”) plays Mike Roark, director of the Office of Emergency Management for Los Angeles. When lava begins to surge up from beneath the city, it’s his job to figure out what to do.
Lending a hand is Emmit Reese, Mike’s amiably and openly competitive second-in-command. Emmit is played by Don Cheadle, the hot actor from “Rosewood” and “Devil in a Blue Dress.”
Also on board is seismologist/love-interest Amy Barnes, played by the amusingly explosive Anne Heche of “Donnie Brasco,” “The Juror” and “Walking and Talking.” Gaby Hoffmann (“Sleepless in Seattle”) appears as Mike’s teenage daughter, who, of course, manages to get caught, at least a couple of times, in the path of the deadly lava.
In addition to its fine cast, “Volcano” has another advantage over “Dante’s Peak”: Unlike the earlier movie, it doesn’t waste almost an hour getting to the action.
After a minimal amount of exposition, things begin rumbling, spewing, flowing, burning and collapsing.
It’s all pretty standard stuff. No brilliant camerawork or flying cows are apparent here.
But director Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story,” “The Bodyguard”) does a decent job with the action scenes and manages to maintain a reasonably suspenseful mood throughout. If the weaknesses of the script - like a corny post-O.J. lesson in brotherhood, for example - make you wince, they are at least kept mercifully brief.
Besides, “Volcano” comes pretty close to delivering what all moviegoers have always wanted to see at one time or another. I’m talking about the destruction of L.A., of course.
The film’s tag line - “The Coast Is Toast” - almost sounds like wish-fulfillment.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Volcano” Location: Lincoln Heights, Newport, Post Falls and Showboat Credits: Directed by Mick Jackson, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Don Cheadle, Anne Heche and Gaby Hoffmann Running time: 1:42 Rating: PG-13