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Joe Versus the Volcano


Ready for something offbeat, charming and truly eccentric? Try on John Patrick Shanley's unique 1990 fable, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO.

Tom Hanks stars as Joe, a miserable hypochondriac, buried in a horrible dead-end job in a dark, polluted and dingy factory.

When he's diagnosed as having just months to live with a "brain cloud", Joe leaves behind his evil Boss (Dan Hedeya) asks a fellow worker (Meg Ryan) out on a date and takes a new path.

Soon, Joe is approached by a very wealthy man with a crazy story. Mr. Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) offers to give Joe anything he wants for the last months of his life, as long as he is willing to be a needed human sacrifice on a little seen Polynesian island, jumping into a bubbling volcano to appease the Gods.

What follows is an interesting trip toward the moment of "taking a leap". The allegories are often heavy, sometimes thankfully more subtle but often interesting.

Meg Ryan appears two more times, as twin daughters of the billionaire that first meet Joe, and then take him to the island.

The first half hour of the film is slow and sometimes annoying, with no subtlety to its storytelling and only Hanks charm to ride on.

But as soon as Hanks meets Marshall the chauffeur (perfectly played by Ossie Davis) the movie takes on a much sweeter tone, allowing Hanks to begin a journey of self discovery that is funny and touching, while never losing the eccentric story.

Ryan's third role is her best, as Patricia and Joe encounter plenty on their voyage and discover things about themselves along the way. It's sweet and never forced. Hanks and Ryan have serious chemistry (Sleepless in Seattle anyone?).

This is an odd film that I didn't care for when I first saw it back in 1990. Shanley had just written Cher's "Moonstruck" and I think I expected another traditional romance, but this is something much more odd and in parts, really creative.

Any film that features Abe Vigoda and Nathan Lane as island natives, Robert Stack as a goofball doctor and a set of luggage that would be a great co-star on "Survivor" obviously takes a strange path.

Georges Delerue's music, moments of Shanley's dialogue between Hanks & Ryan and Ossie Davis's short but powerful performance make this a path worth taking.

Not traditional or predictable, Joe recovers from it's opening act and earns a charming B.

"Away from the things of man" indeed.....

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