After reading this last guy's review, I'd like to stick up for this movie and offer a BALANCED review. In my opinion, Dante's Peak does a good job of developing the characters (Dalton, R. Wando, the volcano as a character, even the townsfolk), giving convincing backstory as to how volcanos behave compared to scientists' expectations, making us care about the characters, building tension through conflict between Dreyfus and Dalton, and using effects to ramp up the intensity of the action scenes.
Yes, there were things in the script and the story which seemed a little contrived and strained believability. The attitudes and behavior of the USGS team were a little too informal and "hip" to seem real. The driving-through-the-river and driving-through-the-lava scenes were really too far out to be believed. Ruth's selfishness and patent stubbornness were unbelievable but understandable. The scene where the pyroclastic cloud chases them into the mine is pure hollywood fluff but still livable, mainly because WE CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. I found the character of Dr. Paul Dreyfuss to be right on. He explained the dilemma well during the city council meeting scene. All of the characters are believable at least, convincing at most.
I think the chemistry between Dalton and Wando is believable : Here you have a scientist who is analytical and professional, but who is still in touch with the lives of laypeople, and has a tender side. He has loved and lost before and he senses that this new volcanic threat is akin to the last one which "took" his love away. This re-enforces the precept that THIS TIME, HE WON'T LET THE VOLCANO HURT THE ONES HE LOVES. Wando is the warm, slightly ditsy mayor of Dante's Peak who displays the identifiable traits and values of a northwesterner. She feels slightly overwhelmed by her mayoral duties, raising her kids properly, and running her coffeeshop. She's had a previous marriage to a deadbeat who left her at a vulnerable point. The arrival of Dalton is very catalytic in her life. She's met the only man who has the right answer about the volcano, likes her kids, likes her, is intriguing, and is everything her ex wasn't. THIS IS THE MAKINGS OF A ROMANCE...DUH.
I'm really impressed that the filmmakers were able to pack this much character development, backstory, romance, suspense, personal conflict, with an intense end-sequence in under 1 1/2 hours! "Volcano" is a film with a similar premise that,IMHO, doesn't even come close to Dante's Peak. While this film is not deserving of an Oscar, IT IS A SOLID FILM, HAVING BEEN WELL-CONCEIVED, WELL-DIRECTED, FAIRLY WELL-ACTED, AND AS SUCH IS SUBSEQUENTLY WELL-DESERVING OF SOME CRITICAL ACCLAIM rather than getting a baseless pummeling from reviewers who obviously expect to see a 5-star gem everytime they go to the movies.