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KIDS ON FILM

'Dante's Peak' Isn't the Lava Their Life

In "Dante's Peak," a volcano erupts unexpectedly near a small town in the Great Northwest, creating much havoc while a volcanologist, played by Pierce Brosnan, helps fight the forces of nature. (Rated PG-13)

February 20, 1997|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anybody who spends much time at the movies knows that the major Hollywood studios seem most interested in special effects these days. High-concept (there's a misnomer) leads to big box office. At least, that's the reasoning.

Universal Pictures has successfully raised the stakes with "Dante's Peak," which is stuffed with visual terrors from ashy, town-swallowing avalanches to tidal waves of lava.

Though the effects are as thick and heavy as they come, the plot is so thin it's almost nonexistent. Even most youngsters, who probably are more likely to forgive a cool action movie its story-line flaws, can see that.

Ray Fitzgerald, 13, of Laguna Hills had a typical reaction after a recent screening.

"The volcano [messed] up, I guess," Ray said. "And then all this [bad] stuff started happening to the town. That was about it."

His friend Alex Pierce, 14, also from Laguna Hills, went a bit deeper. "The one guy [Pierce Brosnan] knew that the mountain was [in trouble]. He was checking it out, and then it went nuts. Everybody should have listened instead of pretending nothing would happen" as, indeed, the City Council and local developers do.

Was that enough to make a good story? "It was just something so [the effects crew] could make a mess," Alex said.

Still, each boy gave the movie a weak thumbs-up, mainly because "Dante's Peak" did deliver on the visuals, which are intense and dramatic. That should be kept in mind for smaller children.

Both Ray and Alex, however, criticized the beginning as way too boring. A relationship begins, very slowly, between Brosnan's character and the pretty mayor, played by Linda Hamilton. Then there's all the plodding by a geology team that comes from Portland to determine whether the mountain is dangerous.

All the scientific instruments are put in place; there's lots of eyebrow-raising as things begin to look precarious and then, after about an hour, the lava hits the fan. It could have come much sooner for Alex and Ray.

"I didn't like all the talking," Ray said, referring to the beginning.

Alex agreed: "Yeah, nothing happened. It was, like, nothing going on."

Katie Edmonds, 11, of San Juan Capistrano didn't like any of the movie. The first half was uninteresting, she said, and the second half was uninteresting in a different way. She thought the effects were repetitive. How many ways can you destroy a town?

"They kept blowing things up," Katie pointed out, referring to the buildings, the roads, the trees, the mountain.

While younger kids had no trouble with key scenes intended to move along the slim plot, some older ones found them preposterous. In one passage, a lake turns into a large vat of acid after being bombarded with volcanic ash.

Chris Willman, 16, of Newport Beach thought that was impossible. "How could that happen?" he asked with a smirk. "When the water fried [one woman's] legs, I just laughed."

Another scene that boggled him came when Brosnan decides to drive through a river of molten goo. Predictably, the tires, and later the whole vehicle, catch on fire, endangering everybody inside, including a couple of squalling children.

"For a scientist, that guy was pretty dumb," Chris decided.

*

IT'S GETTING STARRIER: The second part of the "Star Wars" trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back," is scheduled to be in theaters Friday. Yes, if the first installment wasn't enough, you can get more of Luke, Han, R2D2 and Princess Leia in this big-screen re-release. In this one, which came out in 1980, the romance between Han and Leia heats up, and Billy Dee Williams enters the scene as charismatic Lando Calrisian. And, of course, there's a lot more flying, shooting and celestial mayhem.

* CHILDREN'S LISTINGS, Page 40

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