Wednesday, April 03, 2013

"Hang on. This isn't going to be subtle."

Here lieth my review of The Core, written for this year's edition of the White Elephant Blogathon. And my God have mercy on my soul.

What can one write about a movie as aggressively mediocre as The Core? As those of you who follow me on Facebook can attest, I’m rarely at a loss for words. But when trying to write something readable about this movie, I find myself drawing a blank. I’m not kidding about that- this is already my third attempt at a review, and I don’t know if I’m any closer to finding a way in now than I was the first time I tried. It’s not that it’s a difficult movie by any means- it’s just that it’s so forgettable that it’s already evaporating from my memory after less than 24 hours.

Still, I must forge ahead. I said I’d review something for the White Elephant Blogathon, so here I am. (Why couldn’t I have gotten the chimp secret agent movie? Rian Johnson’s a fan!)

 The premise, such as it is: something has caused the molten core of the Earth to stop rotating, leading to disastrous results with our planet’s electromagnetic field. Eventually, the field would break down, leaving us completely exposed to the sun’s radiation. Hunky Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) demonstrates this by incinerating a peach with a Zippo and a can of air freshener, proving that college professors do the best Science Fair projects.

But before the Earth turns into a pêche flambée, we get the obligatory, seemingly-random-but-not-really disasters that inevitably take place in a handful of cities throughout the world. The one that opens the movie is pretty good, as the electromagnetic disturbance causes a bunch of people’s pacemakers to stop working. The others, alas, aren’t as good. A scene in which pigeons suddenly attack people in London ’s Trafalgar Square feels like a half-assed Hitchcock ripoff. Even more disappointing is the destruction of Rome by a killer lightning storm. It’s not so much that I was taken out of the movie by some shabby model work (that’s par for the course in disaster movies, after all), but it seems like a missed opportunity that the filmmakers didn’t set the scene in Paris . After all, what’s the Eiffel Tower if not a massive lightning rod?

 It was during this scene in particular that I questioned whether The Core really wanted to be disaster movie at all. Most movies in the genre linger on the destruction with a kind of lip-smacking glee, but The Core seems almost ashamed of the carnage and chaos. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the sun first breaks through the electromagnetic field. Oh sure, we get expected destruction of a landmark (The Golden Gate Bridge, in this case) and the resulting fires and deaths, but director Jon Amiel and his screenwriters don’t seem to have any interest in showing the incident in detail. There are some dead fish, a random guy in a car suddenly gets burned, and the bridge gives way, but the aftermath is kept to a minimum, shown entirely on a TV news report. There’s no public panic or anything, not even an explosion. Where’s the showmanship?

Alas, The Core isn’t as interested in the apocalypse as it is in the mission to stop it. It’s less Irwin Allen than Jules Verne. Unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t find a way to make scenes of a half-dozen people in a ship particularly exciting. As the $50 billion metallic phallus burrows its way through the Earth, it hits one obstacle after another, and the team has to improvise solutions that more often than not involve (a) jettisoning a portion of the ship, and (b) one of the team members dying. While this gets repetitive, it’s also a handy gauge to how much of the movie has elapsed. By the time the only crew members left are the ones you’re confident will survive to the end, you’ll know it’s pretty much over.

(Seriously, I could have watched The Stuff! O cursed fates…)

 At least the cast is good. In addition to Eckhart, there’s also Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Jenkins, Bruce Greenwood, and Alfre Woodard, who are all professionals and do a professional job. Eckhart and Tucci seem to be having the most fun here. Eckhart shakes off the mantle of being Neil LaBute’s go-to guy by making his character something of a goof and a showboat (e.g. the flaming-peach thing), while Tucci does his thing as a pompous fellow scientist whose involvement in the project conceals a big secret (one that feels completely gratuitous in the story). And Lindo, despite playing a thinly-written eccentric-inventor role, actually musters up some real gravitas in a number of scenes, even getting the movie’s most heroic death (SPOILER!).

With all that talent onscreen, it’s sort of jaw-dropping that Hilary Swank has two more Oscars than anyone else in the cast, considering she’s easily the weak link in the ensemble. Is there a “name” actor nowadays who’s less fun to watch onscreen than Swank? Her characterizations are invariably thin and one-dimensional, and she projects none of the joy of performance that characterizes most really talented actors. In the midst of superior talents, all she’s capable of mustering is steely resolve, which is pretty much all she has going for her as an actress. While everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves, she seems to be convinced that she’s chasing down another Oscar, which makes her feel distractingly out of place.

And speaking of things that don’t belong, what the hell was going on with the computer hacker played by DJ Qualls? The government ostensibly drafts him to assist with the mission by “hacking the Internet” in an attempt to keep the mission a secret. But honestly, we mostly see him sitting behind a desk at Mission Control typing away and downing Hot Pockets while General Richard Jenkins looks over at him every once in a while. He doesn’t seem to do anything specific until the secret “Plan B” mission comes to light, at which point he runs interference while the heroes carry out their heroic mission before Plan B ends up causing more disastrous problems than it solves. Perhaps it’s just my distaste for the movie’s need to introduce a Plan B at all as a method of generating additional suspense (because the uncertainty of whether our heroes will manage to jump-start the core isn’t suspense enough, right). But introducing a character who serves almost no discernible purpose in the story then having him wait until a situation arises where he’ll actually come in handy feels like lazy screenwriting to me.

Ten years ago I was single, which gave me time to see all the movies I wanted to see. Nonetheless, I took a pass on The Core, probably because I was kind of a snob and hadn’t yet developed my palate for genre-based trash. Now that I have less time to watch movies, I’d skip it for another reason- because it’s more or less a waste of time. Movies like The Core serve no purpose other than occupy two-odd hours of people’s time and leave them mildly entertained (possible pull-quote for the poster: “I totally saw it! And so can you!”). I’m generally averse to dismissing a movie by saying, “well, there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back,” but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t my first reaction after I watched The Core.

Worse yet, I didn’t even get a good review out of the deal. Just consider that I could’ve watched Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, and even recorded an audio review in character as Werner Herzog, and shed a tear for humanity.


Patrick Miller said...

Fun fact: I watched this in my high school earth science course. It was one of those movies she had for a substitute to play, and a few of us marveled at both the fact that this got made, and that an earth science teacher would actually encourage people to watch it.

Ivan said...

Aw Jeez, Paul, if I knew you were going to take this bullet, I would've given you the "Only with 40 six-packs and a pound of primo reefer" warning sooner!
Yep, it's a flick that compounds stupidity upon idiocy upon nonsense upon awfulness--at a budget that could've feed the world's hungry!
But Stanley T. does seem to be having fun, even allowing the worst toupee ever to be glued to his noggin.