Remembering: Joe Versus the Volcano

Remembering: Joe Versus The Volcano
American romantic comedy directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan
Released March 9, 1990
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head


“Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe
who had a very lousy job...”

He worked for American Panascope, home of the rectal probe. And in the factory that manufactures surgical tools, the office of Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) was located under tubes that flickered a gross shade of fluorescent, way down deep in the building’s bowels. To think Joe quit being a fire fighter because he never felt good. Now he has a brain cloud. The guy from Unsolved Mysteries told him so. Robert Stack is Ellison, the doctor who said: “It’s a black fog of tissue that runs down the centre of your brain, very rare, and spreading at an irregular rate.”

Given only six months to live, there was simply nothing left for Joe to do but fly to the South Pacific and jump into a volcano! Lloyd Bridges showed up at Joe’s house as Samuel, a friend of the doctor, and offered him an all-expense-paid trip to do so, on an island called Waponi Woo.  The Waponis, the people of the island say a fire god lives inside the volcano who hasn’t been appeased in a hundred years. In order to appease the fire god, someone has to jump into the volcano of his own free will. If Joe jumps into the volcano, he will not only save the island and its people, but it will allow Samuel to retrieve the precious minerals he needs for his super-conductor business; minerals that can only be found on the fire god’s island. Joe has the courage of a man who fights fire, so off he goes armed with his ukulele.

The first class flight takes him to Los Angeles where he will then board a yacht that will take him to Waponi Woo. Meg Ryan who plays DeDe at the beginning of the film, American Panascope’s sickly secretary appears at LAX airport to greet Joe as Angelica, her second character in the film. (Ryan plays three characters in all). Angelica is a rich, suicidal painter-poet, the daughter of Samuel whose had the soul sucked out of her while driving around L.A. in her sports car convertible. Angelica’s job is to ensure Joe makes his rendezvous with the yacht. At the dock, Ryan then appears as Patricia, half sister of Angelica who says she’ll be captaining the yacht, named The Tweedle-Dee, because her father promised to give her the boat in return. And from here the real adventure begins.

When Patricia appears on deck dressed in a bright-yellow rain coat and cap, just as button-cute as Christopher Robin, that familiar on-screen chemistry between Hanks and Ryan can no longer be denied. But directly after their passionate kiss, Tweedle-Dee meets up with a typhoon and capsizes, tossing Patricia overboard. Joe rescues her from the angry sea with the aid of his four trusty Premiere Steamer Trunks. “Almost the whole world’s asleep. Everyone you know, everyone you see, everybody you talk to. Only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant, total amazement.” So here we arrive at my favourite part of the film: 

Joe ties the four trunks together to make a raft for two, and with a portable transistor radio blasting old time rock and roll, he dances atop them while Patricia lays there, out cold. He also plays a round of mini golf atop the raft. And plays his ukulele. It soon becomes clear that being doomed to die has transformed Joe into one of the “awake” people. After night falls, he has an epiphany of sorts when the moon rises above the ocean from what looks like the ends of the earth. This is living!

Eventually Joe and Patricia are rescued by The Waponis, and the guardians of the volcano are indeed addicted to orange soda, it’s true. Lloyd Bridges said so. And Abe Vigoda plays the Waponi leader. Just like Dorothy and her companions on their way to see the Wizard, Joe and Patricia are pampered in paradise with a feast, before eventually having to go up and meet the Big Woo. Live like a king, die like a man!

But Patricia had to go and fall in love with Joe. Yes, the button-cute captain of her own ship can’t believe this has happened either. She’s never fallen in love with anyone. She never even slept with him! Joe loves her back, but if he’s to save her father’s super conductor business, and the sale of orange soda, the fire god must be appeased. Watch this movie, if you haven’t already, and find out what happens when Joe versus the Volcano!

Note: That’s Eric Burdon of The Animals singing
Sixteen Tons in the opening scene.

The trailer for Joe Versus The Volcano...
Last modified on Sunday, 07 June 2015 15:28


+1 #1 Darryl Tahirali 2013-04-23 00:10
Definitely an out-of-left- field sleeper, and a polarizing one too. In the humor department, JVtV is neither conventional ly clever nor predictably stupid, and that I think unsettles a number of viewers who "expect" the film to behave one way or the other. It doesn't, but it holds together somehow, and, yes, Hanks and Ryan are a big reason why.

I remember smiling at a lot of JVtV, but I recall one laugh-out-lo ud moment being when, on the island, two guys swing in on vines and both crash--delib erately--int o gongs: they are the ringers. It's a launch-the-s ucker-and-se e-if-she-flo ats moment, and luckily Shanley doesn't dwell on it--it's just a gag, but it got me chuckling. Also, Abe Vigoda's tribe playing "Hava Nagila" is another chuckle.

All this despite the Dan Hedaya Factor: I like Hedaya, I think he's a fine actor, but he sure shows up in a number of crappy movies. (Somewhat like Brad Dourif, who I think is a really fine actor, but who has paid the mortgage by appearing in some real dreck.) If you don't like JVtV, though, then there's your proof, I suppose.

So, imagine my surprise when the same John Patrick Shanley turned up nearly two decades later to write and helm Doubt. I have to salute his, ahem, catholic (small "c") taste. . . .

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