It has been quite a while since a fun-filled, exciting, old-fashioned disaster movie has been released, and the wait continues with "The Core." Directed by Jon Amiel (1999's "Entrapment
") with his tongue hopefully in cheek (but somehow I doubt it), the film has to be physically endured to understand just how laughable its every minute is. While a suspension of disbelief is certainly essential for most entries in the "disaster" genre, "The Core" is so unremittingly over-the-top, goofy, and shallow that there is no connection to the characters, no urgency to their dire circumstances, and no suspense to any of the generic action setpieces.
First, the unlikely premise. When the Earth's core suddenly stops spinning, an electromagnetic field breakdown occurs across the globe. People drop dead without warning, pigeons fly amok, and the Roman Coliseum explodes. With the world bound to end in less than a year, a machine is created that will journey to the Earth's core and attempt to jump-start its rotation. Chosen to go on this death-defying mission are physics professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart); astronauts Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank) and Colonel Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood); geophysicist Dr. Conrad Simsky (Stanley Tucci); ship creator and token black guy Edward Brazleton (Delroy Lindo); and weapons specialist Sergei Laveque (Tcheky Karyo). As threatening lights fill the Earth's sky and conditions quickly go downhill, the mission runs into one problem after the next in its race to save the planet.
In a recent interview with "Entertainment Weekly," director Jon Amiel discussed how he attracted such a fabulous cast filled with actors usually known for working in character-driven pictureshe assured them he was making a movie that focused on character-dimension over its special effects, rather than the typical vice versa situation. The outcome? He lied through his teeth. "The Core" is as rudimentary and generic as a sci-fi flick of this ilk can get, with its ensemble nothing more than basic, underwritten creations fresh out of Screenwriting 101. No room is offered for anyone in the cast, save for one exception, to come off as what seems like a real person. Most don't even get the time to show emotion.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of big-budget, visual effects-driven moviemaking is when excellent performers come on board and are so wasted as to almost be a crime. Had I not known that Aaron Eckhart was utterly captivating in 1997's "In the Company of Men" and 1998's "Your Friends and Neighbors," and Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her shattering turn in 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," it never would have crossed my mind that they had any semblance of talent or charisma. Swank gets one or two quieter moments near the end that are effective, but otherwise, both actors are stranded in a sea of cliches and blue screens.
The only actor who actually resembles a flesh-and-blood human being is Stanley Tucci (2002's "Maid in Manhattan
") as Dr. Conrad Zimsky, a man partially responsible for the disaster who realizes the error of his ways and is willing to risk his life to make amends. Tucci is more convincing, and there are more details in his role, than in all of the other leads combined.
"The Core" is filled to the brim with special effects, but every single money shot (and the entirety of some setpieces) have been widely displayed in its trailers and television ads. When these scenes arrive, one perks up, expecting something at least visually pleasing (since there's certainly nothing intellectual in sight), only to be disappointed when they needlessly add up to very little. Meanwhile, the sheer ludicrousness of its premisethat a machine, with people inside, will travel thousands of miles beneath the Earth's surface to fix the core's rotationearns some unintentional bad laughs. As does the peculiar-looking D.J. Qualls (2002's "The New Guy
"), eerily playing a young, oddball computer hacker hired by the government to aid in the mission. Qualls throws out one embarrassing one-liner after the next, and even sheds a tear in one scene to prove his character does have emotion. I didn't buy it for a second.
Perhaps the most fatal flaw with "The Core" is that there is never an actual feeling of dread that the Earth is in danger, and the characters never react to the news of the end of the world the way real people would. In fact, director Amiel disregards even the most vague hints of realism within the situation by never showing most of them learning of their possibly grim fate. For the ship's crew, Eckhart, Swank, and company act as if they are headed to the grocery store, rather than out to save humanity. "The Core" wants to be taken seriously, and it wants to engage viewers in a taut, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Instead, it is preposterously dumb and often more dull than not.