Joe Versus the Volcano apparently has a cult status, and I do understand why some, like my friend, might consider it enjoyably bad. I’m not going to contest their enjoyment of the film, as I can sort of understand the appreciation for how much the movie just doesn’t care about what random pieces were used in assembling it. For me, however, the movie just wasn’t bad enough to actually transcend that boundary into so-bad-it’s-good territory. I guess I just get a sense that this movie was actually kind of aware of what it was doing, and so it was less interesting because of it. The stupid movies I enjoy are the ones that just do not care or try so hard to care that they fall flat on their face, and Joe Versus the Volcano is just trying just hard enough to not be trying too hard but also not apathetic enough to be laughably bad. As I said before, I genuinely enjoyed Meg Ryan here and was mostly just perplexed as to why nothing else in this movie cared enough to be as delightfully silly as she was in the first two thirds of the film. The fact that they ultimately set Joe up with the least interesting love interest in the end just makes it even blander.
It’s not such a bad premise for a wacky screwball comedy, as Joe Versus the Volcano aspires to be. I’ve always kind of held to the notion that there pretty much isn’t such a thing as a bad premise, just bad execution, and I think that holds up for this movie. Nothing about this movie stands out about this movie as being inherently unsellable to a general audience provided that the movie sells it well enough. The problem with Joe Versus the Volcano is that it doesn’t do that, and yet, for me, it also kind of fails to rise above the trash heap in which it belongs, so it never actually stands out as being so-bad-it’s-good, either.
Joe Versus the Volcano is a film that seems to have been overlooked in its time. That’s a shame, because it’s really a pretty good film. It manages to be a film about the triumph of the human spirit and loving life, and to be a romantic comedy, without falling into the cloying sweetness that those two genres are so prone to. It’s funny and charming, and well worth watching.