When you have a lengthy and acclaimed filmography like Tom Hanks, some films are going to fall through the cracks. That has certainly been the case of 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano. Even among early-career comedies, this is a movie that gets overlooked. People remember Splash. They remember Big even if it is just to make jokes about the fact the movie features a grown woman having a sexual relationship with a child in a man's body. You rarely hear about Joe Versus the Volcano. That's a mistake, because it is the best of the early-period Hanks comedies. In fact, it's one of his best movies full stop.
Hanks stars as Joe Banks, a working stiff without a lot going for him. He is then told he has an incurable disease that is going to kill him within a few months. Soon thereafter, Banks is approached by a wealthy industrialist played by Lloyd Bridges who makes him an odd offer. Bridges' Samuel Graynamore wants to mine an island in the Pacific, Waponi Woo, but the natives will only allow it if he helps them find a human sacrifice. They believe once a century a person must voluntary jump into the volcano to appease the gods, and Samuel tells Joe that if he'll do that, Samuel will give Joe all the money he wants until then.
Thus begins Joe's adventure, and along the way he meets three different characters played by Meg Ryan. Also, Abe Vigoda is in the movie. At this point, you may be able to glean that this is a rather quirky comedy. Some may say that it's too twee by half, and admittedly it is probably too twee by a quarter, but it works. Obviously Hanks helps. Having a great actor can sell a lot of stuff, and there are things that need a hard sell in the storytelling here. The Ryan triple-casting is a stunt, but a stunt that works, as she is good in all three roles. Joe Versus the Volcano is funny and fresh, heartwarming and charming. It has unusually high feel-good vibes for a movie about a guy jumping into a volcano to kill himself.
If you are a fan of Hanks' comedy work and you haven't seen this one, be sure to check it out. It definitely is worth including on your Hanks checklist. Hell, even if you aren’t a Hanks lover or a Ryan lover, you should still give it a shot. It's a lot of fun, and sometimes that's all you want, or need, from a movie.
The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette that isn't new and was included on a previous DVD release. It's fine, but not something you need to see. There is also a music video for Eric Burdon's cover of "Sixteen Tons," a song played during the opening montage of the movie. Still, if you want to see a high-quality version of a really good movie, you will still want to check it out.