The directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, this quirky comedy is one of the few flops under the belt of star Tom Hanks, its off-kilter brand of loopy charm flying over the heads of most audiences. As a nebbish who thinks he's dying of a bizarre disease, Hanks diverges from his usual role of an intelligent, supremely competent professional, perhaps alienating his fan base, but delivering a winning, funny performance that ranks with his work as a wide-eyed innocent in Big (1988). In her first pairing with frequent co-star Hanks, female lead Meg Ryan loses herself in a trio of roles that rank among her best work and presage the most undeservedly ignored performance of her career in Courage Under Fire (1996). It's the goofball characters and sneaky symbolism of the screenplay by Shanley that make this wacko project the comic delight that it is, however. Whether it's Abe Vigoda as an Orange Crush-worshipping tribal chief, Lloyd Bridges as an eccentric millionaire, or the recurring visual references to fate (keep an eye peeled for hidden zig-zags and lightning bolts), the film is a major cinematic treat. Although trounced by many critics, Joe Versus the Volcano is a woefully underrated film, one of the decade's lost classics and a film that star Hanks has often singled out as the lone, unfairly tarnished gem on his resumé.
by Karl Williams review