Joe Versus the Volcano [1990]

Joe Versus the Volcano is a true early-1990s cult film. This fantasy-comedy was the first pairing of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, yet it polarizes viewers like a Blue Velvet or Happiness. As the only directorial effort from John Patrick Shanley (the Oscar-winning writer of Moonstruck), it is something special, and it's hard to resist the film's feather-light heart tugging. Joe Banks is having the life sucked out of him at a dead-end job. Miserable in his gray surroundings with stark fluorescent lighting, Joe dreams of being brave again. A visit to the doctor reveals that he has a "brain cloud." It's fatal, but he'll be fine for a few more months. An eccentric millionaire, Samuel Harvey Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges), hears of Joe's predicament and comes to him with a proposal: The people of the Pacific island of Waponi Woo need a human sacrifice to appease their gods. Why not live like a king for a few weeks, then throw yourself into a volcano? (Graynamore needs a sacrificial victim to offer in exchange for permission to mine the island for a rare mineral.) Joe accepts Graynamore's lavish proposal and on his journey meets three romantic possibilities (all played by Ryan). Joe embraces life; so does the movie. It's packed with smile-inducing supporting performances by Bridges, Ossie Davis, Robert Stack, and Dan Hedaya; playful songs ("Sixteen Tons," "Ol' Man River," Presley's version of "Blue Moon"); and amusing scenes (such as Joe buying luggage). Add the daring, imaginative production design of Bo Welch (Edward Scissorhands), Hanks and Ryan's chemistry, and Georges Delerue's romantic music and you have a film to fall for. --Doug Thomas

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