02 March 2009

DVD: "Joe Versus the Volcano"

Joe Versus the Volcano
Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Barry McGovern, Ossie Davis
DVD Release Date: 2 April 2002
MPAA Rating: PG
List Price: $9.97

The Film
Hypochondriac Joe (Hanks) is in a nearly vegetative state working for a factory that manufactures rectal exams.  His doctor (Stack) informs him, though, that because of the battery of tests upon which he insisted, they discovered that he has a brain cloud.  It is devoid of symptoms, but incurable; Joe has at most six months to live.  This impetus sparks a revitalization of Joe's interest in living and it is in this impetuous state of mind that he is approached by an eccentric business mogul (Bridges) with a proposition.  There is an island whose people are threatened by an angry volcano, lest it be appeased by human sacrifice once every hundred years.  There are less than two weeks to go before it will blow.  None of the locals wish to sacrifice himself, so they've reached an accord.  If the mogul will find someone to leap into the volcano for them, they will provide him with access to a rare mineral only found on their island.  For his part, Joe will have several high-limit credit cards to do as he pleases and live the high life prior to his sacrifice.

There are three bonus features on this disc.  First, the obligatory original theatrical trailer; it's vaguely spoiler-ish.  Secondly, a music video for Eric Burdon's cover of "Sixteen Tons."  It's actually clever, suggesting that Joe's life after his diagnosis and quitting is all a daydream.  Given the existential nature of the film, it's actually very jarring to watch afterwards.  Finally, there is a "behind-the-scenes documentary" that is really about a five minute long clip of Hanks, Ryan and Shanley giving their takes on the characteres and the film.  There is also a list of the main cast and crew, and you can see a filmography of Hanks and Ryan, current as of 2002.

The Recommendation
There are several "why not?" moments in this film, but once you accept the near-shark jumping as part of the progression of the story, it's easy to go along for the ride.  I've never been much on existentialism in long form (vignettes are fine, but an entire 102 minute long film stretches my interest.)  Ryan plays three different women, each representative of a different phase of Joe's growth, and she is her standard charming self in all three roles.  It is a fun film, though, even if it could have stood another edit and the DVD could really benefit from a commentary by writer/director Shanley.

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