Dantes Peak had a series of spectacular effects set-pieces but when it tried to write human drama it was mind-bogglingly dull; Volcano fails to even rise to that level. At most, Volcano has a routinely competent array of special effects. However, there is only a single sequence that has one even moderately on the edge of the seat one with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche being lifted over the river of lava on the end of a firetruck ladder as it is slowly crumbling beneath them. The other set-piece that does stand out somewhat is where a rescue worker deliberately jumps into the river of lava from a train and is burned alive because it is the only way to throw an unconscious train driver to safety one remembers it because of the sheer nastiness of seeing someone burned alive.
On the plot side, Volcano proves even more dreary than Dantes Peak. The script throws up clunkily obvious exposition lines like What are tectonic plates? and What is magma? Dantes Peak at least went out and did its research about volcanoes and threw in some interesting facts about rivers of acid and the impossibility of flying through ash; Volcano appears to have done the most cursory reading and many of the things happening are patently impossible helicopters do indeed fly through ash, people move extremely near to the river of lava without encountering the slightest problem with heat. In perhaps the most ridiculous scene, we have an end fadeout on downtown Los Angeles where life appears to be going on the same as usual despite the presence of an active volcano in the middle of the city.
That is not as bad though as the human implausibilities. There are times that the characterization does not seem in the slightest way connected with real people. There is a would-be heart-rendering scene where one rescue worker who, unable to remove a colleague from fallen debris, instead of going to safety himself or calling for help, elects to stay there and allow the rubble to be brought down on top of the both of them. There are trite little moral lessons about racism the Black man who tries to get help only to be dragged away by intolerant cops as a troublemaker but who then proves himself by helping lift the concrete buffers; the boy surveying the ash-coloured survivors at the end and noting They all look alike. Equally so, the film seems to miss many other obvious moral targets it fails to make us delight in any comeuppance when the lavish high-rise tower that self-important developer John Corbett so prizes has to be brought down; indeed does not even give Corbett a chance to realize the error of his self-interested ways; nor do we get the standard scene where the authorities who refuse to believe there is a problem are duly shamed. At least, unlike Dantes Peak, the script does not drag itself down by trying to generate romance between Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche or a lengthy preamble about the lead character(s) fighting to get the menace taken seriously when everybody knows the upshot of the film is that they are going to be proven right. The film has cast good actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche but sticks both in roles that require them to do nothing other than duck fireballs.
British-born director Mick Jomes had begun working in television and had great acclaim with the tv movie Threads (1984), which offered a documentary-like depiction of nuclear war. His greatest box-office success with the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston romantic drama The Bodyguard (1992). His one other venture into genre material was the whimsical Steve Martin romantic fantasy L.A. Story (1991).