Saturday, September 19, 2020

Things That I Used To Do: Airplane vs. Volcano

I may not be devoting my time and effort to covering bad movies these days, but that doesn’t mean I stopped loving them. So every once in a while, I’ll spread a little bit of that love…


When my daughters were elementary school-aged, as a proud papa I make a point of chaperoning one of their field trips every year. That added up to a fair amount of filling time on the school bus, so we invented a game called “Rock-Paper-Whatever.”

Rock-Paper-Whatever is played exactly like Rock-Paper-Scissors, except you’re not bound by those three traditional options. You could “shoot” literally anything that came to mind. Hence, we’ve seen “tank vs. earthquake,” “Chuck Norris vs. laser-shark,” “Bigfoot vs. cancer”… basically, if you can imagine it and come up with some kind of corresponding gestures, it’s fair play (but can only be used once per session, otherwise people would just take “black hole” every time). As you might guess, the game is best when there are impartial judges on hand to parse out such philosophical debates as “four-week-old tuna sandwich vs. existential crisis.”

The Asylum’s Airplane vs. Volcano sounds like something we’d come up with in Rock-Paper-Whatever (“volcano” is a surprisingly popular selection). Unfortunately, your 90 minutes are much better spent playing my made-up game than watching this film.



Airplane vs. Volcano opens with Robin Givens talking on a walkie-talking – yes, this film was released in 2014, why do you ask? – with her colleague, Joseph, as he plants seismic thingamajiggies around an island. Suddenly, Joseph discovers a brand-new, smoldering CGI island that apparently popped out of nowhere. As islands tend do to. Then Robin Givens is yelling, “It’s right on top of you!” and Joseph is looking up in horror at stock footage of lava. Um, okay. Bye, Joseph! An aerial shot reveals that there is now a literal ring of CGI volcanoes.

Let’s meet the Airplane! It’s just a regular ol’ passenger plane, full of scruffy and strangely chatty passengers and exactly one flight attendant. We meet scruffy Dean Cain, the scruffy nerdy guy who just happens to be another of Robin Given’s colleagues, the mom traveling with her young son, the guy who is obviously an air marshal, the vaguely Arabic passenger who is all sweaty and suspicious, the newlywed anxious to get home to his wife… you get the idea. Really all that’s missing is a physician and a nun.

The captain notices that the radio isn’t working. He’s pretty chill about it, though that seems like an extremely bad thing to me. He starts discussing the issue with his co-pilot when OMIGODVOLCANOESEVERYWHERE!! The captain does some impressive dodging of flaming boulders, but then the plane gets hit with some extreme turbulence (I think) flat-out murders both the captain and the co-pilot. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it does get Dean Cain’s butt in the cockpit so we can watch him wrestle with the controls for the next 80 minutes.

Dean Cain, whose flying credentials are limited to “nothing bigger than a nine-seater,” has a few problems:

  1. The captain locked the plane in auto-pilot, which has them flying in an endless loop over the ring of volcanoes. As a post-9/11 safety measure, only the captain and co-pilot have the code to shut off the auto-pilot, but they’re both dead.  
  2. According to Landon, the scruffy nerdy guy who just so happens to be a colleague of Robin Given’s: “I study volcanoes and, um, I doubt this is the worst. In fact, I think they’re just waking up.”
  3. While the vaguely Arabic passenger who is all sweaty and suspicious is not a capital-T Terrorist, he’s plenty unhinged. Like, at one point he attempts a coo and tries to get everyone to literally throw Dean Cain off the plane kind of unhinged.

Meanwhile, Robin Givens has problems of her own, in the form of the shoutiest, shittiest Army colonel ever. Col. Shouty spend much of the film defiantly refusing to even try to help the folks on Air Cain, no matter how much Specialist Dudley DooRight strenuously recommends an evac. At one point, Col. Shouty even yells at Robin Givens, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?” as if her sciencing created the CGI volcanoes.

The biggest problem with Airplane vs. Volcano – aside from the listless direction, the sloppy CGI, the groan-worthy dialogue, etc. – is that it’s not sure what kind of film it wants to be. At times it’s almost knowingly ridiculous and cheesy, such as the plan to dangle a passenger out of the moving plane so he can clear out a blocked engine with his Fix-It Felix hammer (you can imagine how well that goes) or the military’s ultimate plan to “take the fight” to the volcanoes, Independence Day-style. And then the film will become abruptly dark, such as watching the skin slide off a soldier’s arms from the heat, or the close-up of a young mother and her toddler as an entire beach gets Pompeii’d.

Believe it or not, Airplane vs. Volcano works best when it’s just a straight-up disaster film. Sure, it’s still pretty weak tea for the most part (though I should add that Matt Mercer as the scruffy nerd, Landon, is a bright spot here), but at least the film is on solid footing when it’s dealing with the drama in the air.

Can I recommend this film? Uh… no. Perhaps for Dean Cain completists or enthusiasts of CGI volcanoes, but that’s about it.

Oh, and I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that Volcano beats Airplane every time.



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