Method of Madness
Stubborn volcano insists on blowing its top at the peak of travel season, destroying a burgeoning oil empire and luxurious hotel on some remote island (Hawaii??), as well as killing dozens of badly dressed tourists and that Asian dude from The Karate Kid.
Bringing Out the Dead
Eleven on-camera deaths can be confirmed, but the true number is impossible to determine. First, a helicopter – one not fortunate enough to be piloted by an Oscar winner – careens out of control and hits a mountainside, killing at least ten frantic hotel guests. Second, a rogue fireball hits the resort near the film’s conclusion, causing it to explode with more force than the volcano itself. There, we see three people die (one of whom screams in terror, breaking a mirror in the process), but the rest are an enraged, incoherent blob. Most of the verifiable deaths are the standard falling-from-great-heights variety, including three from helicopters and two from a rickety bridge, straight into a river of lava. There’s also an inexplicable tidal wave that wipes out a cheap studio set in Santa Barbara that’s clearly meant to be a stand-in for some quiet island cove. Only it looks like Front Street in Dodge City.
Mr. Oscar, Your Paycheck is Ready for Pick-up
First of all, there’s William Holden. One measly year before he got stinking drunk, tripped over an end table, and bled to death all over the carpet, he channeled a mummified approximation of his former glory to spend a few hours forgetting the fuck he ever did The Bridge on the River Kwai. Oh, the bridge remains, but rather than serving as a metaphor in the context of the world’s greatest conflict, it’s simply a spindly slab of wood where Mr. Miyagi (who runs a cockfighting ring, for fuck’s sake) will meet his doom. And some fat bitch in a muumuu can scream for her kids to be rescued by Burgess Meredith. But Mick is merely one of the nominees. Also on the winner’s side of the aisle is Paul Newman, more charitable than we ever imagined, trying like hell to send some twinkle from those baby blues to convince his fellow actors he wasn’t simply eager to treat Joanne Woodward to a second honeymoon on the islands at Jack Warner’s expense. Red Buttons, apparently unaware that The Poseidon Adventure actually came to an end, adds a moustache, but is pretty much the same character (including the same odd duck manner of jogging), only this time, he’s leading a blind Ernest Borgnine to safety, rather than a hot chick in short-shorts. Yes, I said blind. Mr. Borgnine has no real part to play, but he does catch on fire, leading to a temporary loss of sight, and spends the rest of the time with his head completely bandaged like some dude from the Iranian hostage crisis. Whether that was actually him underneath the gauze is tough to say, however. I’d like to believe he spent those scenes lying on a beach somewhere, toasting the endless abyss of the Pacific, wondering where the hell it all went.
Celebrity Non-Actor Way the Fuck Out of His Depth
As if on cue, and tipping his cap to O.J. Simpson’s afro-laden turn in The Towering Inferno, ex-Detroit Lion and obsessive gambler Alex Karras shows up, mutters a few lines under his breath, makes out with a big-haired floozy or two, then dies chasing a rooster as the aforementioned tidal wave comes to call. Karras is burly, stocky, and packed with muscles, so naturally, he’s named Tiny. As expected, failing to register in any capacity landed him his very own show, Webster, where he was predictably outclassed by a precocious black midget.
God’s Pissed as Hell and He’s Coming for the Innocent
As with all disaster epics, human hubris grabs the Almighty’s attention and, sick and tired of all the defiance, he sends a natural disaster to wipe a few of the fuckers out. Here, a long-dormant volcano sends tons of lava and smoke into the air, not because God’s interested in creating a new island chain, but rather to interrupt a greedy cocksucker bent on drilling for oil in his untouched Eden. Plus, God hates to see Paul Newman lonely, so the disaster is about the only way to reunite him with a lost love. Still, as bad as God was and is, Irwin Allen hates us more.
What the Fuck Did He/She Just Say?
A woman, one not threatened with torture or embarrassing photos, tells Burgess Meredith, “I don’t need the wine, you get me drunk!” In possession of a tired heart, she dies a coward’s death. As for Newman, he’s pretty much disinterested throughout, but he does come alive for, “About an hour ago, we recorded twelve tons per square inch…That’s a pretty big hill of beans!”
While investigating unusual tremors and disturbing readings on a battery of bleeping computers, Newman, along with the greedy oil bastard and a bearded geologist, travel to the center of the volcano in a contraption only Irwin Allen would have the audacity to put before paying audiences. Resembling a tin can with cheap glass to withstand nothing more dire than a cool breeze, let alone a thousand degree blast of hot rock, it is lowered into the mouth of death by several thin ropes, which means there will be a scene where the conspicuous “Malfunction” button will sound off, sending the can into a violent spin, and forcing Tiny to run into the building and manually pull them back up. All 2,000 pounds of them. Later, that same geologist is killed when he decides to continue peeking over the fucking smoking hole of hell as it spits inconceivably hot magma all over the island. And yet he still screams like a woman as if shocked right down to his pocket protector. And then there’s the gorgeously stupid Nikki, who, despite having been rocked by several massive earthquakes (one of which destroys the entire airfield), still takes the time to wash her hair and do her nails. Even as the island is engulfed in lava, she insists that nothing is wrong. She’s also blissfully unaware of her husband’s infidelity, even though his mistress is the island’s only other full-time resident. Finally, I’ll let you decide which character would look best in the movie’s cutting edge short-sleeved suit (to no one’s surprise, the movie was nominated for Best Costume Design).
Unexpected Twists and Turns
Burgess Meredith, not Paul Newman, will be the film’s hero. Using his training as a tightrope walker, no less. And, contrary to popular belief, Red Buttons is the world’s worst tennis player. Oh, and volcanoes are more than capable of sending forth fireballs packed to the gills with TNT. Also, one of the surest signs that a volcano is about to blow is the emergence of foot-long centipedes from the earth’s core. And it’s ever-so-important to spend half the film’s running time at a treacherous bridge, if only to avenge the loss of Pat Morita. And where the fuck is George Kennedy?