Joe Versus the Volcano

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Joe Versus the Volcano Movie Poster Image
Cult classic with smoking, kissing, stereotypes.
  • PG
  • 2002
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's message is to seize the day and live life to the fullest.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joe learns to stand up for himself and learns to make the most of each day. The island inhabitants behave in stereotypical exaggerated manners.

Violence

There is an extended scene where characters on a boat sail into a typhoon. Some of the ship's crew do not survive, and for an extended amount of time, two of the main characters struggle to survive on a giant luggage case. A character faced with death debates the virtues of suicide. Hanging over the main character's head is the prospect of ending his life by jumping into an active volcano.

Sex

A few romantic kissing scenes between the two leads. One of the characters asks if the other had slept with her half sister.

Language

A couple instances of "s--t."

Consumerism

A brief glimpse of a Giorgio Armani store.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the characters is shown smoking cigarettes. Characters drink wine, but do not act drunk. During a climactic scene, one of the main characters appears with a bottle of alcohol and a glass.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the plot of the 1990 comedy Joe Versus the Volcano rests on the idea that the main character will commit suicide since he has a terminal illness. Despite the morbid premise, the cult classic is mostly upbeat, but an extended typhoon leaves background characters missing and main characters stranded for a while. One of the characters smokes, and there is some drinking, and a bit of profanity ("s--t"). The island inhabitants are also portrayed stereotypically.

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What's the story?

Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), a former firefighter, works at a dismal job that is making him believe that he is sick all of the time. When he visits his doctor (Robert Stack), Joe is informed that he has a "brain cloud" and has less than six months to live. Joe immediately quits his lousy job, and while at home, is visited by a mysterious man (Lloyd Bridges) who says he is familiar with Joe's heroism as a firefighter. He offers him unlimited money to spend for the remainder of his days if he will go to the island of Wapani Woo to jump into an active volcano and be the human sacrifice the islanders believe is needed to silence the grumbling volcano god. Joe agrees, but on the boat ride to the island, Joe meets Patricia (Meg Ryan, who also plays Joe's two other almost-love interests in the movie), the mystery man's daughter and captain of the ship. During the dangerous voyage, the two fall in love, and Joe must decide whether or not to dive into the volcano, or to take a chance on life and love and believe that maybe the "brain fog" isn't real.

Is it any good?

One would expect a lot more from JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. It's got a potentially funny and entertaining storyline, the soon-to-be beloved rom-com combo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, and Abe Vigoda on board as the leader of the South Pacific island tribe. This makes it all the more disappointing that the movie doesn't quite succeed as a comedy, as an adventure, or even as a comment on seizing the day.

The bottom line is that the story gets lost in an indulgence of montages and over-long side-stories involving Meg Ryan playing different characters. The title promises a volcano, and instead, it's Joe Versus a Typhoon, or Joe Versus the Phoniness of Los Angeles. By the time Joe's actual love interest arrives on the scene, we're about an hour in, and it's not until much later that we actually see that gosh darn volcano. It isn't a terrible movie, and it has enough of a cult following to keep it at three stars, but far too many moments of comedy fall flat and far too many others could have been cut.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about romantic comedies. How is this similar and different from other movies in this genre?

  • How are colors and music used in this film to create a mood?

  • Why do you think certain actor pairs have chemistry and some don't? What exactly is "chemistry"?

Movie details

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For kids who love comedy

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