Underwriting all the laboriously fresh, overthought set-up and take-down is the filmmakers' confusion between namby-pamby finger pointing and a genuine moral: The carnage wrought upon all these extras and CGI monsters by this wow-factor Indominus Rex is, we learn with all stoic seriousness, our fault, because we're so easily jaded, as Americans, as an audience. We, the audience, made them invent this beast! By paying $$ to see this film we encourage this digital bloodlust irresponsibility! Why didn't we stay home and save the whales instead?
That old wow factor has sunk mighty low since 1993, when the first CGI Jurassic Park blew us all away, lectures this pointed finger. Before we can even defend ourselves, it switches on its headphones and starts blasting that John Williams saccharine 'sweep.' Shhhhhh. Mom! Get out of my room! PLEASE!
Naturally, we want this Indominus Rex to get loose --there wouldn't be a film without it. And having the pterodactyls and pteranodons attack the fleeing, fanny pack-bedecked tourists en masse is a lovely Roger Corman-esque event to which we're invited to cheer and jeer as--in Harry Lime parlance--the ants stop moving. Any why wouldn't we cheer? We hate ourselves for being so bloodthirsty, so please - have at these ugly (as in unashamed of themselves) American consumers waddling away from the snow cone dispensary, alas... too slowly.
The problem is with the leads, or how they're written: InGen executive Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) is an uptight caricature of control-freak bitchiness who butts heads with Owen (Pratt), the raptor trainer, who we're supposed to find either hunky or cool in that older brother/Han Solo kind of raggedy man way. That's the sum of their connection. Claire expects men and monsters alike to heave to when she wrinkles her nose, and stamps her corporation-gray heels. She's the type of person who uses the royal "we" when giving Owen orders ("we'd like you to visit the tiger cage on your way out"). Her sister (Judy Greer) is the same shade of frowny face emoji, whose sent her two young boys off to the park to visit "Auntie Claire,"n. freeing Greer up to divorce their dad without having to look into her boys' wounded doe eyes (which is, it turns out, their only survival trait). Naturally busy-busy Claire fobs the boys onto an assistant and, naturally, they escape her. They break lots of rules, get lost, and Claire--dreading having to call and tell her sister she lost them (making her a de-facto dad of great adventure)--will have to kick off those grey heels and come crawling back to the one man who can find them for her (do I even need to mention that he and Claire went on one disastrous date awhile back and her "diet wouldn't allow tequila")?
Owen's stock 'cool' traits aren't as groan-inducing as Claire's stock bitch-in-the-boardroom control freak tics, but they're just as risible. We're regularly faced with dialogue written by people who've made no effort to learn anything about zoology or park maintenance. Though she works at a dinosaur park, Claire seems to know absolutely nothing about them other than how much they cost to incubate vs. ticket sales. Owen has to remind her that "animals raised in isolation aren't always the most sociable," which is double offensive since it's clearly some hack writer's trite inference Claire needs to get laid and so some shots.
Validating Camille Paglia's anti-3rd wave feminist theories, Claire dismisses everything Owen says as sexist dogma, as merely another skeevy male's attempt to use the sexist laws of nature to get into her pants. She calls the dinosaurs 'assets' and presumes rolling her eyes at Owen's survival tips will somehow bend the reality of nature to accommodate her. The corporate (boo!) human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to sniff out and eat the Taliban but at least he's friendly and not quite as cliche'd a characters Claire. The epitome of the successful working woman presented as a desexed ball buster, blind to the dangers of the natural world, dismissive of any man's attempt to protect her as just more sexist bullshit. Owen is given all the compassion and humanity. These creatures are not 'assets' he tells her, 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' He's the only one woke enough to call the killer dinosaur hybrid a "she" instead of an "it." You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or eye-hand coordination. Considering he can't be everywhere at once, it's amazing the park has gone a single day without falling apart.
Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged but sensitive tough guy who is not Australian. Pratt offers belated proof that American masculinity is not an oxymoron. Despite dialogue homogenized into banal bytes by legions of overpaid writers, Pratt is able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, cool without callousness, sensitivity without sentiment, and self-awareness without self-absorption. No non-Australian Hollywood actor has been able to manage such a combination, except maybe Brando. And you can't even say he's sexist since he proved his ability to take orders from a bossy redhead back in 2012's Zero Dark Thirty!
Alas, there's only so much he can do to counteract the cliche'd overkill. Do I need to mention that
when Claire comes to his trailer to ask for help, he's outside by the river fixing his badass vintage Triumph motorcycle in a T-shirt and jeans, while she's stamping her feet (sinking her heels into the mud) in an unflattering (waist-hiding?) 90s business skirt/slacks combo and rocking terrible Prince Valiant hair?
|Pout at the devil: Claire demonstrates the 'hurt puppy eyes' method of leadership.|
The rest of the cast of course is just another rack of digestible tourists and 'mono-quirk' staffers who somehow are even more aggravating then the self-righteous animal activists played by Vince Vaughn and Alessandro Novo in the past two films in the series, or even the sickening "life will find a way" sentiment-spewers Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill (I always cringe the way spontaneous hermaphrodite reproduction is something both these male characters 'own' through getting strangely pious and sentimental over it --"life found a wayy
At least the "you're playing God!" sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy (hairy arms, golf shirts and a big gold watch) and the dispassionate mad scientist (Asian) gene splicer, and even there the shaming is more along the lines of animal rights, which is far easier to take (as a real man) than the 'waving baby chicks at the 4H Fair' malarkey, even if the lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail casts a sickly pall. One longs for at least one 'real' termite detail in at least one character!
We used to get some little bits brave actors would shoehorn in: Jeff Goldblum's relationship with his black daughter in The Lost World
for example, is full of little bits of business. I also like how Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid (in III
). But here in the fourth film, we're at a whole new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept., make-up, script, and actor are all presuming they're the only ones who are supplying the character's essence. It's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur
he's supposed to watch all day has disappeared from his cage, he has to be cramming a sandwich into his fat face right at the moment the dismayed visitors point it out--and he doesn't stop eating!
Nor does he get his ass off his stool to check! Then there's the glassy-eyed handler who falls into the raptor cage; the guy running the hamster balls who can't just say "they're all present and accounted for," he has to add "it's my job
" so you know he has not done it. Vincent D'Onofrio saying "if only we'd had these things at Tora Bora
;" there's the Asian geneticist drinking green tea in a clear glass cup in a Bruce Lee style black sweater; and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion.
Latinos: first in the field; first to be eaten.
The most offensive--on my plate-- is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic (and no offense to the actor; he's great in IRON MAN 3, though he has the advantage there of Shane Black dialogue), who professes to love dinosaurs yet is clearly terrified of bending a single rule, even in the company of his 'cool' older brother, whose smoky eyes (new from Coverboy mascara?) keep playing tag with gaggles of conveniently cute and similarly guardianless girls. Rather than try to play along and pick up a girl himself OR get shy and blush, the younger kid acts like Bambi watching his mom flirt with a hunter.
It's the kind of movie where the older brother has to constantly remind the younger brother that they'll always be brothers, i.e. dialogue clearly written by an only-child raised in a test tube.
Look, I'm not asking for Long Day's Journey into Night
(the benchmark for great brotherly rapport) here, man, but it's not that fucking hard to write good sibling dialogue. Even simple improv exercises might help. But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same square mile of cords and gaffers as the actors; unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks who know more about how to schmooze their way into gigs than they do about the way real people talk. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are, the more universal; generalities work only in how equally they bore audiences of all nations and ages.
Not to harp this point but I keep imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams, Shane Black or Joss Whedon might have provided some dialogue like that or just letting the kids improvise. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore like my buddy Alan and I at the same approx. age, but they can't be this
square... man. Just can't be.... but when they finally overcome their terror and feel exhilaration through zapping an attacking raptor as it tries to climb in the back of their SWAT vehicle, the kid's first exclamation is "I can't wait to tell mom
!" What, is he gonna run in and tell her after he smokes his first joint... when he's 45?
Maybe their arrested maturity can be explained by the way mom (Judy Greer) calls them on the phone constantly, nagging them for not calling her the minute they got off the plane, the minute they got to the park, etc., asking if they're having fun while trying to guilt trip them at the same time; no matter what level of fun they do
have, it's not enough and/or too much of the wrong kind. If they enjoy the park without her, they're ungrateful sons. If they don't, they must not be trying to piss her off.
But as feminist critics have noted, Claire is the worst of all: the most dated and cookie cutter trite 'bitchy exec' in the history of movies. When flying dinosaurs are carrying women and children she decides to stand up on top of a jeep and shout for her nephews' attention. While she and Owen are hiding from the killer mutant she shouts at the top of her lungs to see if the kids can hear. "The kids are still alive, but you and I will not be if you keep shouting like that," Owen tersely whispers. She glares back at him in the presumption that somehow wild animal nature can be brought to heel simply by making a sour face at the first man who tells her it can't.
Naturally when she winds up in jeopardy, Owen must risk his life to save her. But then she's a hero because she waves her arms at a viewing screen and screams at the nerdy security tech: "For gods sake, Harry! Be a man and Do
It's all almost worth it though because, in the end, doused in sweat and down to her strappy tee (above), she finds a pose she can assume without looking hippy (in the anatomical sense), presumably why in all her shots she has jackets tied around her waist and/or is shot from the navel up (though far be it from me to be genuinely sexist about pointing such things out). Assuming the sexy pose of Julia Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon
or a cave girl from either When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
or One Million BC,
that sexy submissive crouch that helped launch the hormones of a generation of 12 year-old boys (and some girls) on TV back in the 70s, Opie's little girl doth rock it at last.
There's other good moments: the comical punchlines and counter bytes/bites of the flying dinosaur attacks, all very indebted to Spielberg and Joe Dante. And Pratt practically does
save the film as well as the day : "Your boyfriend's a badass." says the older brother. One can't deny that, what with Owen's driving a motorcycle into battle, his raptor squad racing around him; but actually being
her boyfriend seems just too dangerous, maybe worse in the long term than being torn to shreds by a pterodactyl (I'm amazed I can still spell that word, it's been at least 40 years!). Claire's idea of parenting is to drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck and leave them there; don't even let them watch the take-down from a remote feed, which at that point is like one of those things where the returning Vietnam vet can't get a beer because he's only 20. Actually, that the nephews can even recognize Pratt's badassery at all
is testament to their
resilience, not hers. If they ever piss off mom bad enough they get sent to military school, maybe they'll finally have a fighting chance to be men. If not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.
Some gals at the typing pool might argue women have to be ball-busters in order to earn men's respect at the office, but that argument evaporates when you experience the magnificence of Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997). Full of quick-thinking expertise, geologic insight, and decisive commands that arouse only respect and affection (no male ire whatsoever) from her crisis management de facto captain (Tommy Lee Jones), Heche's dialogue is so rich that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are not a reflection on women's competence in the workplace but reflections of hack, lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand the field they're writing about. Rather than doing some actual research and ride-alongs to absorb the way real professionals in the field they're depicting actually talk, these lazy hacks just have their female 'experts' act neurotic to hide the fact they haven't bothered to learn about the subject they've been paid to explore.
Part of the fault, naturally, falls with neopotism, the way Hollywood is staffed with coddles the children of the rich and famous. A lifetime of being beautiful, rich and very well-connected has left them with plenty of filmmaking opportunities but no real idea of what life is like. Like any child with limited world experience, they confuse adulthood with scowling and prohibition. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is. Being an adult female means keeping kids from eating candy for dinner, making them going to bed on time, and being an all-around meanie. Being a teacher means standing in front of a blackboard going 'yah-yah-yah' while you covertly try to IM your bestie.
I say to these writers and actors tasked with creating professional working female characters: look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take some goddamned notes.
If you've already seen VOLCANO and thought 'meh' due to some of its more groan-inducing Crash
-esque post-Rodney King LA healing incidents and the dimwit clingy daughter played Gaby Hoffmann, then I say look again, and ignore everything... everything but the magnificence of the Heche.
She's so damn good in this film she had to be demeaned by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man (or the daughter of some major power player or icon). She should
be as honored and A-listed as Robert Downey Jr. If she's not, well, it's because she's crazy and because the Man
is scared of her. And you can see why when you watch VOLCANO.
If the time frame between JURASSIC WORLD and VOLCANO is too great for you, consider it against the 'other' volcano movie of 1997, DANTE'S PEAK. They came out at the same time, though DANTE'S beat it to theaters by two months. DANTE'S follows all the rules of the Spielberg thrill ride blockbuster. VOLCANO is more a TAKE OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE / DOG DAY AFTERNOON kind of real-time 'disaster maintenance in a high population urban center' examination that would be right in step with 1978 but way too mature and complex for the average suburban mall family outing.
As a stoned consumer seeing DANTE on a bored Saturday afternoon at the (those were the days) $3 theater air-conditioned theater in midtown-NYC, and as a fan of both Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan, I had a great time. I just rented VOLCANO and watched it on the small screen and it was kind of meh, especially the racial healing bits and other bad choices.
Well.. what we wanted on the big screen in the late 90s is not the same as what endures as relevant in the 21st century post-9ll HD world. Rather than the DANTE's majestic adventure sweep, where every emotion we're meant to feel is broadly choreographed, VOLCANO's got that 'just another fucked day in NYC' kind of blue collar guy professionalism (transplanted to LA). A quick thinking big canvas disaster movie that tears through the real Los Angeles and its infrastructure, VOLCANO has enough well researched cliche-free back-and-forth between city department heads that it touches on the rattatat well-researched alive genius of Paddy Chayefsky's NETWORK or THE HOSPITAL. We get a kind of fast-thinking (or the whole thing falls apart into gridlock) curmudgeonly affection and good-natured combativeness between the officers of City Hall, Urban Planning and traffic control, fire and police department, and so forth, that feels like the result of writers and actors having clearly spent time embedded in the actual control rooms. This is an area where quick thinking order-givers are promoted due to their ability to stay cool in a crisis and mobilize team heads and be constantly inputting and computing results rather than freaking out while the fireballs fly. We also get to see the way their personal and family relationships suffer when there's no disaster to manage, as that same quick-thinking disaster management has trouble easing off the throttle, so to speak. But lucky for us, there's the biggest disaster ever this day, so overlapping dialogue flows past us so fast we have almost no chance to catch our breath or explain what's going on to someone else without hitting pause.
There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) a too on-the-nose (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around, then they work together...ugh. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, though. The city's national geologist spokesperson, Heche's character is mature, gutsy, engagingly written and acted, sexy, in-the-moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent. She's
not the one fretting about some whiny brat.
DANTE'S PEAK on the other hand, relies on its quaint isolated setting to avoid having to find out what the real world is like. And as with JURASSIC, one note overkill swamps each character: Pierce Brosnan's shaky geologist widower and local mayor Linda Hamilton (right) are the beautiful people, surrounded by toadying acne-ridden greedheads and/or adenoidal tech nerd sidekicks. Two attractive smart people in a world tossed with ugly idiot characters copied off TWISTER's math test, Brosnan and Hamilton (Bond and Sarah Connor) do have a believable chemistry (she's no bitch or cloying mother but the cool local mayor). Their mature and Bridges of Madison County
pastoral romance lures us in but their almost-kiss is interrupted by volcanic shizzz; meanwhile the burly bear guy in charge of the seismograph cautions the town about ordering an evacuation as it might hurt tourism, the tweaker little shrimp tech gets a bid at TWIN PEAKS chatter as he won't shut up about gourmet coffee, and so forth. As with the TWISTER storm chasers, the clunky white elephant-in-tattered termite costume banter is so douche chill-inducing hackneyed it actually reverses character development like an overexposed negative.
While VOLCANO provides an unavoidable, sudden calamity that feels like it's bringing out the best in people over an approx. 48-hour period. It's a dense, mature text. Much easier to write, DANTE's calamity hinges on greed and stupidity (in everyone but Brosnan and Hamilton) as if the mayoral greed of JAWS has spread around to poison all the children on Harry Lime's hospital list. The town leaders won't evacuate despite the ominous portents, as if they can argue fiscal deadlines with the reality of boiled backpackers; Hamilton's kids put her and Brosnan in danger by driving themselves up the mountain into the ash storm to get grandma (who won't evacuate- stubborn homesteader that she is). Rather than in-the-moment quick thinking of the type we see in VOLCANO, the adventure in PEAK hinges on the kind of stupidity chains which wipe out whole communities, one rescuer chasing the other into the maelstrom until none are left but Darwin and Emerson chuckling from on high.
Hamfisted attempts racial unity and a trite daughter arc aside, VOLCANO is the opposite of that kind of dopey raison d'etre
; it certainly should have put Anne Heche in the same A-list company of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock if she wasn't already, but Heche got ground up in the machinery of Ellen and mysticism. None of her erratic behavior offscreen was as bad as Robert Downey Jr.'s from a similar period, but Heche is a woman,
from a poor family, and 'out' (and then straight again - which pleases neither side) and suffering from a mental illness, which makes it harder to insure the production (as they don't know if you'll be able to survive the harrowing long hours, take after takes, and all the other crap that can shatter even the staunchest brains).
That's part of it, but I also feel the mainstream press is far warier of recognizing scary-assertive talent in women. They like their female stars to be either stunning beauties with very little range (Megan Fox, for example), or else moms and/or girls first, professionals second (Howard, for example). They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre. In a big budget disaster film, professional career women must
be frigid bitches or weary/cool widows with cute kids, just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to fill in the empty spaces. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional played Anne Heche.
Here's a small example of her character's cool: Thinking of her co-worker vulcanologist girlfriend who was sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits the night before, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--and, eyes wide, declares to herself, sincerely, "Rachel would have loved
I almost fell out of my chair with joy when I finally re-watched this movie last week and heard that line. Why is it that Heche is the only woman cool enough to say that kind of shit, EVER? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a female character this resilient and free of buzzkill feel-bad morality since FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. Usually a woman is left at home with the kids, there to make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We
need you here, too, David!!!" or making angry calls to the precinct or air traffic control, or wherever, when her man is off facing danger or MIA, and demanding they do
something! Lots of calling and demanding, ever trying to lure the man away from the action we came to see, as if they are the anti-movie, ever trying to turn a rowdy action adventure movie into a trite domestic drama. If these daughters or wives end up tagging along on the adventure, they certainly disprove of heroism and any display of enjoyment in courting danger. Rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, his excuse not to come home, they wrinkle their noses. Come home, David!
Heche's Anne is light years ahead of all that. Stunned but invigorated after her near death experience in the subway tunnels below the street, she hangs around in the thick of the eruption all morning, day, and night, not whining for Tommy Lee Jones' attention like his idiot daughter does, but doing her job, her career, improvising, thinking strategically and fast, finding the path of the lava by watching a ball liberated from a looted toy store window, making calculations, etc. and barking them out super fast to Jones, who doesn't question them or give her shit about woman's intuition but merely reacts and mobilizes his team to follow her instruction without a second thought. There's no spare time to second guess whether her advice is just that of a girl... standing in front of a man... and asking him to evacuate the city blocks between La Brea and the Pacific ocean. There's not even time for her stamp her foot impatiently while he talks to someone else, "Tommy! Tommmeeee! I have something to say." Her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city form a fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to at a speed their opposite numbers in DANTE'S would never dream possible.
But more than just being smart, capable, and able to think on her feet logically rather than getting bogged down in the tar of 'emotional conviction,' Heche is playing one of the few heroic female characters allowed to genuinely love
being in the thick of danger. Usually enjoying calamity is the sole domain of villains, "sluts" femme fatales whose jubilance gets people killed or seems otherwise monstrous (as in she needs a man to shout: "Damnit it Kate, those aren't statistics, numbers in a notebook, they're people
! With families
!") In other words, Heche is not the type to think shouting "Somebody DO
something!" in a moment of extreme crisis qualifies as being a capable manager (or like Jones' idiot daughter, let emotional prioritizing commence a whole chain of doomed rescuers as she pursues a lone dumbass infant into the blast zone, and dad has to go after her and risk his life as well).
But a daughter's dumb decisions have little to do with Heche, who doesn't have a daughter to deal with. In fact, Heche is the one who rescues them all more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure
there's little of the annoying tics of the type, since the good aspects of Tommy Lee's character (he's able to stay cool and process loads of information during a natural disaster) are also the bad (he can't ever just relax and let someone else take over even for an hour or two). We generally loathe micro-managerial bosses but we know Jones is cool because his staff tease him about it and he just rolls with it. As with his back-and-forth with Heche, dialogue with the staff (including second-in-command Don Cheadle) is all believable, the jokes and banter and character etching deftly woven into the action and exposition, rather than the 'here's three pages of character banter and now three pages of exposition and now three pages of disaster management' lameness of DANTE'S PEAK, a film that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.
In the 90s I loved the effortlessly generated attraction between mayor Linda Hamilton and coiffed vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan--I loved his Bond, and loved her Sarah Connor and it was the late 90s. In PEAK she made me want to date a mother of two and move to a cool house in the shadow of gorgeous Colorado mountain. VOLCANO seemed much too busy, too full of business (then again, I was probably drunk when I rented it). Now I don't get how I didn't get it then, or how I let a few Rodney King hand-holding "we are the children" moments rush me to snide dismissal. Now, on widescreen DVD it's DANTE that's unendurable; Brosnan especially seems much too handsome and composed to be believable as a roving geologist. Look at him up there, not a single fleck of ash in that hair, and baby that ain't snow outside. Hamilton's mayor meanwhile leans on her maternal sweetness to convince the town to blindly follow and believe everything Brosnan says, his immaculate TV looks carrying a kind of absolute law she's been waiting all these years to capitulate her mayoral authority to.
Heche on the other hand, makes that ash dusting on her face and clothes work.
Her character is the spokesperson for her department and she handles the press conferences with ease and poise and oomph --no bitchiness or stomach butterflies or Kathy/Lucy-like "waaahs" of exasperation. I can only imagine how great she would have been in the Bryce Dallas Howard role of JURASSIC WORLD, especially if she could have some character and wardrobe input. It would have been cool to see her get it on with Chris Pratt --that
would have been innovative,. She might have even pulled it off without someone having to use the word "cougar. And her being older and more self-assured would make more sense as an executive. Is it my
fault for liking Brosnan in the 90s that characters like Heche's in VOLCANO are long gone, and feminism is in such embattled straits?
Maybe not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond a tolerable actress with a pedigree (rather than a great one from a shadier background).
My guess? Heche has suffered (a rough childhood, unstable parents, etc.), Howard hasn't - that's why one is a great actress and the other just okay. Even after all the bodies are hauled away the next morning in WORLD, Howard's Claire doesn't seem changed, sharpened by trauma, adrenalin, and exaltation; she just seem tired from being up all night and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's more exhaustion and relief--take the damn kids! Now if they get eaten, it's on you.
At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated, turned-on. You can feel her blood surging in her veins, singing with life. Any make-up is long gone, obscured by the ash coating, giving her a weird androgynous look one could imagine seeing out in the wilderness of a Warner Herzog or Barbet Schroder movie. That's my
kind of crisis-handling bitch.
If only it was America's.