Let's face it, volcanoes need little embellishment when it comes to producing fear. Why Hollywood writers don't understand that is beyond me, but their efforts to provide an "entertaining" story usually result in a silly movie. While this movie was no exception, it was better than I expected, which is a definite plus. Still, all in all, it was a pretty bad movie.
The movie starts out with a geological survey team on a dormant volcano in Iceland. When the volcano unexpectedly roars back to life, the team is unable to get off the mountain before being engulfed in lava. Enter our hero, Peter Shepherd (Xander Berkeley), a vulcanologist teaching in Rochester, NY. The term has just ended, and Shepherd, along with four of his TA's, is off to Iceland to find out why the geological survey team has gone missing (apparently no one saw the eruption?). History repeats itself when the volcano erupts again while Shepherd and his team are on the mountain, but this time they escape without injury. Confused by this turn of events, Shepherd consults his old mentor, a now wheelchair bound old man, who claims that this is the start of his "Exodus theory" in which mankind has somehow caused the core of the earth to heat up and expand, which is causing all of the volcanic eruptions. This will result in the possible extinction of life on earth. Shepherd takes this to the government, but the chief geologist, whose only motive seems to be to discredit Shepherd, balks. When Mt. Fuji erupts, killing Shepherd's mentor, Shepherd feels he must act to convince the government that he's right. His trip to South America to investigate more vulcanism results in the death of one of his students, the serious injury of another, and the discovery that his rival in the US government is stealing his theory. Shepherd races back to the states with a daring plan to ease the vulcanism. Along the way, he is also trying to reconcile with his estranged wife, Natalie (Reiko Aylesworth), getting advice on this from the female member of his team, Briana Chapman (Amy Jo Johnson). Will he be able to convince the government to adopt his plan? Will he be able to get his wife back?
It's a classic disaster movie plot. The problem is, it's exceptionally poorly written. The science is a bit off, although perhaps not as much as some of the other volcanic offerings we've seen. Still if our use of nuclear radiation is causing the problem, it doesn't make sense to us it to solve the problem. Shepherd and his team take senseless risks that cost them dearly. It's hard to believe a skilled vulcanologist would keep losing members of his team that way. In addition, the whole subplot about Shepherd's estranged wife was pretty lame, and more confusing was Briana's fascination with Shepherd. Was she falling in love with Shepherd? What about her boyfriend, who was also on Shepherd's team? Equally strange was Shepherd's mentor's insistence on being on Mt. Fuji when it erupted. At first, it seemed that he was there to study the volcano, perhaps to help convince the Japanese of the danger. However, all he seems to do is watch and wait for the pyroclastic flow to get him. Was this supposed to be an honorable suicide? And why did his companion stay when he'd asked her to leave? And why such animosity between Shepherd and the chief geologist for the government? Oddest though, were several scenes of characters we knew nothing about succumbing to the lava. These were purely gratuitous, and seemed to make little sense. Overall, there is much in this movie that could have been left out, in favor of a few more scenes explaining some of the more confusing aspects of the story.
The acting was a mixed bag. I liked Xander Berkely as Shepherd, and felt that he breathed some life into the character. Likewise Amy Jo Johnson did a good job with Briana, although her interactions with Shepherd were a bit confusing. Berkeley and Johnson had better chemistry than either had with their love interest in the story. Most of the rest of the acting was relatively wooden, and really didn't help liven the story any.
In the end, this could have been much better. But I do take some heart in the fact that it could have been much worse.