Cinema review: To live and fry in Los Angeles

All you need is lava. As the buildings of Los Angeles crash and combust around the cast of Volcano (12), racist white cops learn to respect mouthy African Americans; a cutesy toddler surveys the survivors' ash- blacked faces and exclaims, "Look at their faces! They all look the same!" as redemptive rain pours down. If Michael Jackson had risen from the rubble, no one would have batted an eyelid. Geological catastrophe - well, it's a great leveller.

But before this Benetton-ad multiculturalism kicks in, director Mick Jackson (no relation) wants to play Yahweh. Seventies disaster movies like Airport and The Towering Inferno preached against over-reliance on technology, but Volcano takes on grander, more Old Testament themes. In fact, Jackson's film is an act of blistering retribution. He opens by cross-cutting shots of bubbling subterranean magma with inane images of LA life, parading Marlboro billboards, smart cars and grinning body- builders. He forces us to eavesdrop on the media's moronic inferno: evangelist radio stations, ads for psychic financial advice, MTV. By hatching a geological apocalypse downtown, he's delivering a ritual punishment on the city for its moral turpitude. This film comes from the director who made LA Story.

Jackson's prophet-heroes are fire chief Tommy Lee Jones and seismologist Ann Heche. Heche - whose appearance gives new meaning to the expression "ash blonde" - blames the builders of a new subway for unleashing these element forces. "This city's finally paying for its arrogance," she pronounces. Since we've already seen that Stan Olber (John Carroll Lynch) and his gang of workmen run a sweepstake on the location of minor earthquake epicentres, we know they're the villains. Gordon makes them pay for it, sending Stan to his death in a pit of lava - into which he descends like a figure from one of the Bosch paintings we see herded out of an art gallery.

Like a lot of recent films (Contact, Albino Alligator, Air Force One), Volcano uses media coverage of the plot's events as a substitute for more subtle storytelling techniques. Jackson has recruited 45 real-life TV reporters to lend his film some veracity, as though his audience won't willingly suspend their disbelief unless they're given CNN interviews with the dramatis personae. This also releases screenwriter Jerome Armstrong from writing convincing explicatory dialogue. He's not up to it: it's an awkward moment, for instance, when Jones tell Heche he's never heard of magma. So for the most part, Volcano delegates explanation to its journalists, on hand to give a running commentary on the film's fiery digital spectacles. Even the Emergency Management command post has a huge TV screen which relays breaking news from CNN.

In the first reel, Jackson shows us a pair of news anchors feeling the effects of a minor quake. Later, with downtown under lava, they seem completely unharmed. So the media's status as guarantor of the film's realism is undermined. When the first eruptions begin, we see lights black out all over LA. Later, we're told that only half the city's power has been knocked out. But if the emergency HQ has switched to back-up generators, who's powering the local media, and who's watching?

Jackson is also unable to be consistent about the temperature of lava. It melts a Range Rover like a toffee on a hot plate, but a bus is an effective temporary bulwark against its flow. The script is oddly inconsistent about the effects of lava on shoes, metal and flesh. Tommy Lee Jones, however, clearly has a higher melting point than any of these materials. He's a walking imperium of Rushmore granite; dogs, widows and orphans all enjoy his steadfast protection. His monstrous, craggy head looks as if it's been chiselled from some Pre-Cambrian stratum, and even his character's name - Mike Roark - has a stony immutability. Or, as executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner puts it in the press release: "There's such security in his essence." Absolutely.

The titular star of Jackie Chan's First Striker (12) provides his audience with no such easy reassurance. In a post-Cold War narrative that makes even less sense than Elton John's "Nikita" video, our man Chan defies belief with his astounding physical dexterity, defies comprehension with his wobbly grasp of English diphthongs, and dederpants and penguin suit. Unlike the overblown humourless of Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal, Chan has an irresistibly sympathetic comic touch, through which he stakes his claim to the tradition of Keaton and Lloyd. Despite having one of the world's worst haircuts, he's one of the current cinema's most inventive performers.

Booty Call (18) is an African American version of the old-fashioned British sex farce, and its utter shamelessness is very winning. It cheerfully redeploys stereotypes banned from our screens shortly after the last series of Mind Your Language: a predatory gay Chinese waiter called Ug Lee, a pair of noddy-dog Punjabi shopkeepers straight out of Carry on Up the Khyber, and a barrage of jokes bluer than Michael Portillo's bikini briefs. (Interestingly, the only white character we see is a crack addict attempting to rob a 24-hour convenience store.) Much of the script is irredeemably filthy: in one scene, Bunz, a putative Lothario (Jamie Foxx), crawls under the card table, and when the dog sticks its tongue up his bottom, he thinks this is his blind date Lysterine (Vivica A Fox) paying him a compliment. British attempts at this sort of thing were products of the "permissive society", but the sexual misadventures of Bunz and friends deliver more sober safe-sex advice than a sheaf of government leaflets. Medical facts are slipped into the plot in the way that agricultural details are woven into The Archers. We are warned off lambskin condoms, urged to use clingfilm as a dental dam, and shown how to negotiate sexual guidelines that Terry Scott and Brian Rix never had to worry about. Laugh? I'm afraid I did. Rather a lot. Sorry.

Watching Harvey Keitel play broad comedy is like watching a sea slug play the harmonica - nature simply didn't intend it. For the first half of Jim Wilson's Head Above Water (15), the king of the B-movie hardcases smiles a weird, three-toothed smile, far more unsettling than anything he did in Bad Lieutenant. The effort required to hold his neglected facial muscles in this unfamiliar position turns his performance into a kind of highly-paid somnambulism. As for the rest of the film, it feels like an improbable thriller to which somebody has appended a sense of humour. It's Cape Fear as screwball comedy, and as odd and uneven as that sounds. But the concluding half-hour is triumphantly, uproariously sick. And cinemagoers whose idea of a good time is Cameron Diaz reined into a bikini will emerge flushed and undisappointed. Here, it's custard-coloured.

Latin Boys Go to Hell (no cert) is soft, kitschy art-house porn, in which closeted Justin (Irwin Ossa) falls in love with his straight cousin (John Bryant Davilla), but gets seduced by the heartless Carlos (Mike Ruiz), who in turn is castrated by jealous ex-lover Braulio (Alexi Artiles). If that sounds like a trashy soap storyline, there's a reason: Justin and Braulio spend most of their time glued to Latino TV melodrama. Ela Troyano's film has a certain seedy energy, but didn't convince me that it had anything more going on its head than daytime schlock.

Finally, Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel gets a welcome re-release, and proves that its Expressionist monstrosity and experimental use of sound is as remarkable as the presence of that intoxicating Marlene magic. As cabaret singer Lola-Lola, Dietrich is an icon of butch sleaze, graced with the voice of an ashtray that's been up all night, but who still wants to show you a good time. Whether you can help it or not, you'll be falling in love again.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 10.

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave