Another morning in Los Angeles, and the city is waking up to start the day, unaware that they are in for a time like no other for the locals. One man always prepared for an emergency is Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), a divorcee who lives with his teenage daughter Kelly (Gaby Hoffman) and is a major figure in Los Angeles emergency standby operation, ready to take over should there be a "situation" erupting on the region, but what he doesn't realise is that there will be a literal eruption before nightfall. The first hint of this is a fairly strong earthquake that strikes but does no lasting damage, but employees of the Department of Water and Power are inspecting below ground at the time and some of them end up either dead or injured: from boiling steam.
The reason for that is all in the title, as disaster movies had made a comeback in the nineteen-nineties thanks to the advances in special effects that made the realisation of the disasters themselves possible in a way that had never been attempted before. Some were more successful than others, however, for example Sylvester Stallone's Daylight flopped, as did the would-be blockbuster Godzilla – and this little item which tried to do for Los Angeles what the giant lizard movie did for New York City, and was about as impressive at the box office, despite the reception being not as scathing as you might have expected. It was undoubtedly not the film to go to for scientific accuracy, for example.
Indeed, you would imagine anyone with a seismology or volcanology background, or even someone who had seen a few documentaries on the subject on television, would be able to tell you that very little about Volcano, from the nature of the disaster to the methods of solving the problem, was accurate to the manner in which this would play out in reality, but with this sort of dedicated to the high concept entertainment you as a viewer had to accept this was ridiculous and enjoy it for what it was: a big, stupid action flick that made no demands on the audience other than to sit back and enjoy the idiocy. If anything, it was not the scientific rigour (or complete lack of it) that grated, it was the presentation of the Los Angeleans themselves.
Everyone here to a man, woman and child, and even dog, was a character, a personality, a bit cool and sassy, unafraid to get up all up in your face should the occasion allow, to emphasise the overall indomitability of the residents. If you did not buy into this and believed those who lived in Los Angeles were not as unique as this film appeared to want you to accept, then the wiseacre grins and attitude on display from just about everyone here were not going to go down well with your tolerance for them, though it might improve your humour when some of them meet an inevitable demise at the encroaching lava. Despite that, you could tell who was going to receive a horrible fate within nanoseconds of the actor appearing on the screen, basically nobody you would be too upset to witness shuffling off the old mortal coil.
Not to say they would not have a noble death, but it was the survivors who would cover themselves in glory when they dreamt up the solutions to the issue of a dirty great volcano bursting out of California. Jones was your craggy but concerned hero who did his best to rescue everyone in the path of the danger, Hoffman was there to be saved and find the experience character-building, Anne Heche was a lady scientist straight out of a fifties sci-fi B-movie (there was a lot science fictional about the premise and how it unfolded), and Don Cheadle was stuck in the control room for more or less the duration, on the phone to Tommy and orchestrating "back-up" and "operations". In addition, Jacqueline Kim was a doctor ignoring her politician partner John Corbett's pleas to forget about the injured and go away with him, a rare instance here of someone approaching a villain: even the cop who tries to arrest a boisterous citizen (he's black, the cop is white) reaches a reconciliation that tells us we're all in this together, so it's about time we started acting that way. A nice message, but you might find yourself giggling at the contrivances and absurdities. Music by Alan Silvestri.