Movie Review: Let’s build a theme park in a volcano — “Skyfire”

At a key moment in the volcanic-theme-park-erupts thriller “Skyfire,” a young woman and her lover leave behind the Chinese SUV full of scientists and the park owner’s wife to see about the young woman’s grandfather just down the road.

Exploding pumice and ash are raining down all around them, lava isn’t far behind. The veteran volcanologist (Wang Xue-Qi) who scolds one and all for “your arrogance” warns the driver “Don’t speed — ash will make the radiator overheat.” Lover boy driver (Shawn Dou) ignores him.

Seconds later they stall out, with the senior volcanologist half-swapping an “I told the fool” look at his volcanologist daughter (Hannah Quinlivan). The driver and his girlfriend (An Bai) sprint off and find grandfather.

Here’s the movie in the nutshell. The scientists have fixed the SUV and race up to retrieve the lovebirds, with volcanologist daughter/motorcycle buff Meng Li (Quinlivan) heroically at the wheel.

And Meng Li gets OUT OF THE DRIVER’S seat as she’s yelling “GET IN,” after having saved the day, runs to the passenger’s side and turns the wheel over to the dunce who stalled it out the last time.

Where is this, Saudi Arabia?

“Skyfire” is a disaster movie from the China Film Co., a government-backed film studio there. Patriarchal, nonsensical, filled with heroism and self-sacrifice, sexism and very bad science, at least it’s got a Western villain (Jason Isaacs). But they soft peddle that, too.

Whatever else comes from The New Chinese Century, their take on popcorn movie making is seriously People’s Republic of Rubbish.

Brit Simon West (The Jolie “Lara Croft,” “When a Stranger Calls,” the Statham take on “The Mechanic”) was behind the camera, because at the China Film Co., there’s a sucker born every minute. He’s made a movie with pretty and pretty convincing effects based on a dimwitted, dull and science-blind screenplay.

Our heroine, Meng Li, was there as a child with her volcanologist Mom (Alice Reitveld) and Dad were caught totally off-guard as the volcano Tianhuo blew.

All the monitoring gear her parents’ team had on site, all the observing they were doing, and the little girl is the one who sees it coming.

“Mom! The snow is burning!”

Dad and daughter survive. Mom is resigned to her fate as she’s swallowed by the pyroclastic flow.

Twenty years later, Meng Li is the chief researcher on site for Tianhuo Island’s “Jurassic Park” styled volcano theme park, with suspension monorails and “totally safe” bubble elevator to take tourists into the cone of an active volcano.

Tourists need their thrills, after all.

Jason Isaacs is the entrepreneur who developed this attraction, leading around investors, keeping his staff on task, even when things start to go wrong.

“Give all the guests free drinks. You’re managers. MANAGE.”

Meng Li’s dad shows up to fetch her, because he can what’s about to go down — again.

The young lovers on staff slip off to a watery grotto for a little romantic swim.

“The water is PERFECT!”

But when the mountain opens up, they aren’t instantly boiled to death. As we’ve seen other volcano movies, we note the error and wonder how many more there’ll be?

The lava moves at a sprint, the pumice explodes like artillery rounds and the gas! The GAS!

There’s much shouting, starting with “I’m staying like everybody else” and ending with a lot of “No, NO, I HAVE to go BACK!”

The acting isn’t awful, but the script flatters no one.

Messages about how woman should have children and not take the wheel when a man is available, Western “short cuts” and noble Chinese employees risking their necks to stay at their posts because “They need me” are all part of the package.

Deaths have meaning, tears won’t bring anybody back and the physics-defying daring escapes make about as much sense as having the grandfather live in a wooden ocean-going junk nowhere near the shore.

With no building of suspense, little connection with a lot of the thinly-scripted characters, and no volcano movie ever having much of a story to go with its effects, “Skyfire” still falls short of “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano,” even if it is marginally better than “Miami Magma.”

MPA Rating: unrated, natural disaster violence

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Hannah Quinlivan, Wang Xue-Qi, An Bai, Shawn Dou

Credits: Directed by Simon West, script by Wei Bu, Sidney King. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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