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Disaster Zone Volcano in New York

D: Robert Lee / 90m

Cast: Costas Mandylor, Alexandra Paul, Michael Ironside, Michael Boisvert, Eric Breker, Ron Selmour, Pascale Hutton, Kevin McNulty, Zak Santiago, Robert Moloney, Kaj-Erik Eriksen, Matthew Bennett, William S. Taylor

What looks like a SyFy movie, sounds like a SyFy movie, has a script and direction like a SyFy movie, and special effects like a SyFy movie, and yet isn’t a SyFy movie?  The answer, of course, is Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York.  Shot on a predictably low budget, Disaster Zone begins well, showing the camaraderie of a construction team working on a new water supply tunnel for the Manhattan area.  Two newbies, Joey (Eriksen) and Karen (Hutton) are thrown in the deep end when a routine blasting goes wrong and three members of the team are killed.  The ensuing enquiry – which seems to take place the very next day – sees team leader Matt McLaughlin (Mandylor) sacked, despite his having seen lava break through the tunnel wall just before he got out.  No one believes his story, least of all the NY authorities, who authorise his team to continue working on the tunnel.  Enter a team from the US Geological Service to investigate (and immediately dismiss) Matt’s claims.  On the USGS team is Matt’s ex-wife Susan (Paul).  At first they butt heads, but soon enough they’ve made up their differences and are trying to work out if what Matt saw is just an isolated incident or something presaging a bigger problem.

Experienced viewers will now be shouting, “Of course there’s a bigger problem!”, and the cause of it all is pill-popping mad scientist Dr Levering (Ironside).  He’s drilled down seven miles into the earth’s crust (from a warehouse, no less!), and has caused major instability as well as aggravating the volcano that no one has ever been aware of previously.  For some reason this is a highly secret operation, backed by mysterious investors, and overseen by oily politician Kavanagh (McNulty).  Levering’s plan is to harness the earth’s geo-thermal energy and do away with fossil fuels.  But in the drive to meet his backers’ deadline, Levering ignores the warning signs and presses on.  Eventually it’s up to Matt and his remaining crew to save the day.

Disaster Zone Volcano in New York - scene

Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York has two main problems and they are both fundamental to the movie’s success (or lack of it).  Firstly, there is the script by Sarah Watson, which, as expected, is as scientifically accurate as saying that water falls upwards, and is littered with lines even the best actors in the world couldn’t give credibility to.  One sequence, and perhaps the most laughable in a movie riddled with laughable moments, shows a man watering a lawn who goes to open a neighbour’s door and finds the handle is red hot.  He uses his sleeve to open the door, lava pours out, engulfs him, and then causes an explosion in the house.  Minutes later we’re told that seventy-two people died in the explosion, in what is being described as a “terrorist incident”.  By this point you’re reduced to mouthing WTF? almost every couple of minutes in sheer astonishment at the script’s determined implausibility.  The second problem is Lee’s scattershot attempts at direction.  Lee is more often employed as a first assistant director or a second unit director, and his lack of ability shows throughout.  Few scenes are handled with any appreciable skill and his decision to shoot the bulk of the movie using various headache-inducing camera techniques such as whip-pans makes it unpleasant to watch.  He’s also unable to frame a shot properly or provide his cast with enough support; sometimes it seems he’s shot a rehearsal rather than the finished scene.

Woeful as this movie is, it’s further undercut by the dreadful special effects – there’s even a couple of shots lifted from footage taken on 9/11 – and lighting that makes everyone look ill.  There’s also a ludicrous subplot involving an anti-terrorist unit led by Agent Walters (Bennett), who believes everything is down to terrorists.  Of the cast, Mandylor and Paul show real chemistry, and while Ironside ends up chewing the scenery with relish, he’s still the best thing in the movie.  The supporting cast do their best against insurmountable odds, and the score hits every beat with leaden predictability.  And to cap it all off, there isn’t even a proper eruption.

Rating: 3/10 – watchable only if you’re in the mood to check your brain at the door; or for the opportunity to witness so much that is witless and stupid in such a short space of time.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.