This, the latest product from the Steven Spielberg movie factory, stars Tom Hanks as a glum hypochondriac working in a grimy, satanically industrial factory that manufactures rectal probes and petroleum jelly.
The cheesy set is one of the many garishly designed backdrops that give ''Joe Versus the Volcano" the kind of campy visual look that complements the impish story line.
Joe, convinced he's deathly ill, visits the doctor (a cartoonishly morose Robert Stack) who confirms his worst fears. Joe finds his death sentence liberating, especially when he's visited by an eccentric industrialist (Lloyd Bridges) who offers the doomed Joe an unlimited expense account if he'll agree to jump into a fiery volcano on a South Pacific island. His sacrifice would appease the local natives (descendents of Jews and Druids who settled the island in Roman times) who'll then grant the industrialist valuable mineral rights to the island.
Joe's strange odyssey is full of shopping sprees, shipwrecks and strange women, all played by Meg Ryan. Joe falls for the the third of Ryan's character, giving "Joe Versus the Volcano" the requisite love angle.
His journey to the island of Waponi Woo is spiced with funny moments, including a running gag about indestructible luggage and a scene in which Joe practices his putting while adrift at sea.
Sadly, "Joe Versus the Volcano" does not have enough of these moments to enliven the entire picture. The movie tries to do too much - it is at once a whimsical fantasy, a satire of New York and L.A., and a mocking send-up of bygone Hollywood backlot movies.
Even Hanks, with his unerring comic instincts, missteps in this messy blend of styles. There are several uncomfortable moments in which the actor is clearly lost.
The megacute Ryan is given three adorable parts to play, but she also has trouble figuring out what kind of laughs she's supposed to be getting.
"Joe Versus the Volcano" is a daring, genial mess, but foremost a mess.
JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO * *
Produced by Teri Schwartz, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, music by Georges Delerue, distributed by Warner Bros.
Running Time: 94 minutes
Joe Banks - Tom Hanks
Patricia - Meg Ryan
Angelica - Meg Ryan
DeDe - Meg Ryan
Graynamore - Lloyd Bridges
Dr. Ellison - Robert Stack
Waponi chief - Abe Vigoda
Mr. Waturi - Dan Hedaya
Parents Guide: (PG)
Showing at: Area Theaters