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Film Review/Commentary

A group of military renegades holds Alcatraz prison hostage. An unknown volcano underneath Los Angeles threatens to destroy the city. An asteroid the size of Texas has Earth in its sights. The Earth’s core has stopped turning.

Who thinks this stuff up? And better yet, how does he or she come up with the solution to these cock-eyed, unrealistic scenarios that can involve the obligatory nerd scientist, aging martyr hero, minority sidekick, sarcastic comedian and at least one babe? It’s a foolproof movie formula that can be seen in Armageddon, et al. It’s all about escapism for two hours in the dark.

But it starts with that high concept pitch that will not only make producers gush out a few hundred million big ones, but also grab the audience 19 months in advance with a teaser trailer.

The latest in this trend of popcorn entertainment can be seen in The Core, a fantasy/action/drama/comedy/sci-fi adventure in which six principal characters take a trip to the Earth’s core to blow off nukes and get it started again.

One of the benefits of this kind of film is that it doesn’t matter what the plot is, or what crazy possibilities the screenwriter conjures up about the unknown. In the case of The Core, if the Earth’s core stops moving, then pacemakers won’t function, birds drop dead, lightning storms destroy Rome and the Sun breaks through the Earth’s protective layer and melts San Francisco.

Yeah, OK, if you say so. But it’s that type of mentality that audiences today have when the plots of movies like The Core are brought up. They are followed by moans and snickers, and people don’t take them seriously. However, that’s the point.

Here, a college professor (Aaron Eckhart) joins an astronaut (Hilary Swank), a rival pair of scientists (Delroy Lindo and Stanley Tucci) and an uber-hacker (D.J. Qualls, the nerd from Road Trip) in a farce that begs to be compared with its predecessor, Armageddon, so much that it involves drilling, a NASA control room and a replica of the drawing-of-the-straws scene to determine who the hero will be.

These kinds of movies require a complete suspension of disbelief, or else they can’t be enjoyed. Even in The Core, when something goes wrong on the mission, one character says: “How about plan C? We continue going down and somehow detonate the bombs.” Another character goes berserk and screams, “Ohhh, we’ll ‘somehow’ detonate the bombs. What are you? Nuts?!”

They know these plots are silly, and we know that each mission will have its bumps, (i.e. inner conflict, early loss of minor characters) but will eventually succeed. It’s the ride the audience takes that makes these films great pieces of, maybe not art, per se, but entertainment.

This is where The Core falls short. Unlike Armageddon, the protagonists lack chemistry and the humorous one-liners fade quickly. Although the film never commits the sin of taking itself seriously, there are no climactic moments when the goal is finally achieved.

Also, there is such a brief build-up to the mission that the film seems rushed to get these actors into this portal-type thing and into the middle of the Earth. For a movie that runs past the two-hour mark, the mission itself takes up more than half the action. Even that breaks the standard three-act structure, which has worked in the past.

The Core has the concept down, but the execution leaves the popcorn-minded moviegoer desiring more.

Contact Will Albritton at oraclewill@yahoo.com