2003-04-03 / Arts & Entertainment

Big Budget B-Movie Is ‘Dumb Fun At Times’

AP Movie Writer
By David Germain
Big Budget B-Movie Is ‘Dumb Fun At Times’ By David Germain AP Movie Writer


Clockwise (from lower left): Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tcheky Karyo and Bruce Greenwood in the sci-fi thriller,  “The Core.” 						       Paramount PicturesClockwise (from lower left): Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tcheky Karyo and Bruce Greenwood in the sci-fi thriller, “The Core.” Paramount Pictures

The journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth adventure "The Core" isn’t quite the pits. It’s dumb fun at times, the movie’s affable little knot of heroes providing enough heart and humor to occasionally make you forget the sheer stupidity of the premise.

As a big-budget B-movie, "The Core" rates maybe a C-plus. The flick’s hard-science pretensions often are invalidated by the vacuous show-and-tell de-meanor of its scientists. Its glitzy visual effects are hamstrung by the excessive abstractness of the images. Witty dialogue is offset the next minute by groaners such as, "Get this ship in the ground now!" or "Saving the world, it’s overwhelming."

"The core of the earth has stopped spinning," celebrity scientist Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) ponderously tells a roomful of government brass.

A perfect soap opera beat later, a general responds, with all the dramatic heft of a guy in a cheap suit staring in dyspeptic dolor at a gravy stain on his tie, "How could this have happened?"

As the end of the world goes, "The Core" is not exactly apocalyptic.

Aaron Eckhart stars as geophysicist Josh Keyes, your standard scruffy, pret-ty-boy college prof who remarkably is the only guy on the planet smart enough to connect the dots between portentous events that include 32 pacemaker pa-tients suddenly dropping dead in Boston and hundreds of pigeons losing their inner autopilots and hurtling into crowds at London’s Trafalgar Square.

The planet’s outer core of moist, chewy, liquid nougat has lost its mojo, Keyes concludes. And that spells trouble for Earth’s electromagnetic field, which shields the planet from solar ra-diation, nasty static discharge and other disagreeable cosmic things.

All life will cease in a year as our friend the sun barbecues Earth, Keyes informs a cabal of U.S. leaders. To de-monstrate, Keyes and new partner Zim-sky, a pompous dandy played to the hilt by Tucci, torch a piece of fruit on a fork with a butane lighter and some aerosol spray.

Suitably impressed with this display of junior-high science-fair pyromania, the generals provide limitless billions to build a ship that uses lasers and sound waves to tunnel thousands of miles deep, where big, honking nukes will be detonated to restart the core.

Joining Keyes and Zimsky are space shuttle pilot Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank), her mentor, shuttle commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood), weapons specialist Sergei Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) and Ed Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo), the mad scientist who designed the tunneling vessel.

Pointlessly tossed into the mix are Alfre Woodard as a NASA overseer and D.J. Qualls as a computer hacker brought in to run interference on the Internet and prevent the sheep of the world from knowing anything’s wrong with Mother Earth (as if the lightning superstorm that levels Rome or the sear-ing radiation that toasts the Golden Gate Bridge won’t tip someone off).

Director Jon Amiel "Entrapment’’) and writers Cooper Layne and John Rogers also weave in a dead-end subplot about an arms race to create geoseismic super-weapons, which may or may not have contributed to the planet core’s falling asleep on the job. The movie’s too lazy ever to answer just what went wrong.

"The Core" bulges with volcanic action, glib wisecracks in the face of danger, heroic self-sacrifice and other clichés we’ve come to expect from doomsday thrillers. Superficial as it is, the interaction between the misfit band of adventurers is warm and touching at times.

But for a popcorn movie on the cusp of summer’s silly season, it drags on far too long. There’s plenty of extraneous action that could have been dropped to pare "The Core" down to the right side of two hours.

The movie also falls victim to current events. Despite a different outcome than the Columbia tragedy, an early sequence about a space shuttle re-entry gone wrong is painful to watch.

"The Core" is rated PG-13 for sci-fi life-death situations and brief strong lang-uage. Running time: 135 minutes.


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