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DANTE’S PEAK (1997)
Starring: Pierce Bronson, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman
Director: Richard Donaldson
The first of two volcano movies that plagued 1997 (the other being the Tommy Lee Jones thriller, VOLCANO, which is a far superior film then this), this mess of a movie is more disastrous then an actual volcano eruption. It parades around one pathetic plot device after another, the movie revolves around a small town by the name of Dante’s Peak being warned that the town they live in is in danger of being melted away from the volcano they ingeniously built their humble town under, as it’s ready to blow its top. Pierce Branson stars as Harry Dolton, a handsome expert on volcanoes (are the hero doctors in these films ever over the age of sixty?), who, years earlier lost his beloved wife while attempting to flee a South American city being salvaged from an erupting volcano. Now he’s emotionally suppressed and spends his days studying volcanoes further. He’s also much more quick to over-react when news rises that a dormant volcano may be ready to erupt. However, some nitwit has decided to stick a town underneath the volcano he believes is ready to go by the name of Dante’s Peak. The colorful little town is like out of a fairy tale, with all the townspeople gather around the towns’ plaza to watch Mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), win an award for running the second best town to live in in America (New York may be dirty, but at least it wasn’t stupidly built near a volcano). When our hero Harry arrives on the scene, sparks (no pun intended), begin to fly with him and the sweet, single mother of two, Mayor. She believes that he is right about the danger of an eruption, but Harry’s superior (Charles Hallahan), is of course a cynical, simple-minded fool who naturally is reluctant to buy Harry’s story. But one hour into the movie, you’ll never guess what happens. Not only is that big bang inevitable, the stupidity that follows is unimaginable as Rachel’s two adorable brats decide to drive up the mountain to save stubborn grandma who refuses to leave her lush and beautiful home. Harry and Rachel of course go to the rescue, where they drive through a raging river and survive, go for a canoe ride in an acid filled river (due to the lava), and survive, drive over scorching ashes and survive (I wouldn’t mind buying tired which could endure such heat), drive like hell as a nuclear force of smokes hurdles their way and survive, crash into a mine and survive…
The first hour of the movie is filled with the usual clichés, as the romance blossoms in the wake of forthcoming tragedy and meeting the cardboard characters who are Harry’s team (one is especially annoying, since he is addicted to caffeine and has the hots for Hamilton). These unfortunate folks have the thankless task of making Bronson more heroic, since they cheer him on and know he’s right. When one of them attempts to show off his professionalism, he is of course injured and guess who comes to the rescue? The only purpose for these characters is to glorify Branson more and more as time goes on, and when they believe he has succumbed to the volcano’s force, they all naturally say their goodbyes out loud.
The second half of the movie is an array of ugly special effects. The volcano blowing its top is the only scene worth watching, as the town begins to fall apart. But then after that two-minute sequence, we are hit with bland scenes of ashes flying all over the place and phony looking lightening sequences. The characters aren’t worth a damn, so all we had to rely on where those special effects and for once they are even more lifeless then the characters themselves. All we have is one ludicrous event after another being thrown our way, and soon enough all the movie has to rely on is presenting situations which appear to be hopeless, but we know better. They find the most inane ways of surviving one ordeal after another, and on top of all that we have the scruffy dog who we have to root for as the film attempts to have us believe the cute little mutt has perished in the disaster, but of course shows up during the most idiotic scene.
Bronson, not much of an actor and not to popular outside of the James Bond films, has the presence of plywood. He has such a serious and I know I’m right but modest about it tone of voice, and it isn’t even enough for him to obtain any presence. Hamilton, another one who isn’t much of an actress, does absolutely nothing but act impressed by Bronson’s many speeches and so-called charm, and then act all worried about her kids acting stupid by saving Granny. To bad it couldn’t have been the writers who decided to drive up an erupting volcano and seem oblivious to the danger. I recommend VOLCANO, which isn’t much of a movie itself, but still far more entertaining then this cruddy pile of a mess. Interestingly enough, the director went on to direct 2000’s THIRTEEN DAYS.
My Grade: D-