Xander Berkeley is one of those "oh, I love that guy!" actors. You're never really able to recall his name, but you probably remember his presence in stuff like Internal Affairs, The Grifters, Terminator 2, Apollo 13, The Rock, Air Force One, North Country, and the first few seasons of 24. He's a great, grizzler, "guy movie" style character actor, and his appearance in a movie generally improves the project exponentially.
So what does it say about the state of the movie business that the only way a guy like Xander Berkeley can get a leading role is to sign on for horrifically stilted basic cable fodder like Magma: Volcanic Disaster. Aside from Berkeley's casually disinterested yet still enjoyable lead performance, there's literally nothing here that you haven't seen in movies like Dante's Peak, Volcano, or any one of the dozen ripoffs that followed those flicks. (Yes, including this one.)
Plot in a nutshell: Volcanic explosions in Iceland lead Dr. Peter Shepard to believe that, basically, the entire planet is doomed to spend a few brief seconds in Kerplooey-town -- and get this: Nobody believes him! All the government stooges are like "We don't believe you," so it's up to Dr. Shepard (and a pixie-cute grad student) to save the planet from huge lava-geysers, earth-cracking explosions, and (you guessed it) lots and lots of mag-ma! (I still feel like Dr. Evil every time I type the word "magma.")
Briefly alleviating the tedium is a pointless cameo by Berkeley's old-school 24 co-star Reiko Aylesworth, but I've always had a crush on her so feel free to take that piece of relative praise with a few grains of salt -- because this flick is as pre-fabricated and ultra-conventional as you could ever imagine.
--The dialogue is silly, stilted and stiff.
--The direction is bland, basic and boring.
--The plot is so familiar you'll be able to spend the whole movie predicting what comes next.
--The CG volcano effects are kistchy at best, hilariously inept otherwise.
And on and on. But hey, it's a 90-minute made-for-cable disaster knock-off called Magma: Volcanic Disaster, which means you probably already know what you're getting into, quality-wise. Aside from a few cool casting decisions (and a handful of unintentional chuckles), the thing's about as thrilling as a bread sandwich.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is probably slicker than the movie deserves. Aside from the few stray bits of lava-induced carnage, the flick feels like Tuesday afternoon's episode of One Life to Live.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, with optional subtitles in English and French.
Extras: Just a photo gallery and a bunch of trailers for Magma, The Convenant, Ultraviolet, The Grudge 2, Dreamland, When a Stranger Calls, and The Cave. Yet another flawless line-up from Sony.
If you rent these flicks for the goofiness, this one's worthy of a rental. If you're renting them for fresh ideas or high-quality filmmaking, you're plain old nutty.