Reposted in the interest of posterity and synergy, despite not being very well-written.-Ed.
starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria, Maria Pitillo, Godzilla
screenplay by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
directed by Roland Emmerich
by Bill Chambers The partnership of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin yielded a giant box office hit last time out with their alien invasion picture Independence Day, a film critically dissed in large part because it was populated with stereotypes: we knew who the smart guy was because he wore glasses and a pocket-protector; who the gay guy was because Harvey Fierstein's dialogue was set to flaming; who the hero was because he promised to "whoop E.T.'s ass." This time out, Devlin and Emmerich have solved that problem by making no attempts whatsoever to define their stable of characters. Not only is New York City a shambles when Godzilla is through, so is Godzilla, a disaster-picture in every sense of the word. This may be the most uncompelling summer movie contender in the history of the sport.
I'm going to give away the plot of this movie with relish, for all the secrecy shrouding this non-event before its May 20th release was ludicrous, to say the least. To say the most, it was merely an attempt to keep the publicity machine well oiled: on-screen sponsor Fruit-of-the-Loom is entangled in a breach of contract lawsuit after revealing early sketches of the Emmerich/Devlin Godzilla on the Internet. Why not sue Steven Spielberg for spoiling designs in his Jurassic Park films, what with Godzilla's flurry of raptor rip-offs?
The story begins with star Matthew Broderick driving out into an open field at Chernobyl to examine some mutated earthworms. A helicopter inexplicably lands before him. Stiffs in suits exit the chopper and announce to him that his years of earthworm research have come to an end: he has been reassigned to the investigation of giant footprints. Broderick deduces a Polynesian lizard must have left these footprints, one of enormous size due to "years of French Polynesia nuclear testing."
His hypotheses--which also include that the beast is the first of its kind, and that it is pregnant (he figures that one out with the aid of an over-the-counter home pregnancy kit!)--eventually prove accurate, all. For reasons never reasonably explained, asexual Godzilla wishes to use "The City That Never Sleeps" (that's how New York City is billed on-screen) as an incubator. And so he/she lays its eggs in Madison Square Gardens, but only after crushing a lot of taxi cabs. (No mention of human casualties is ever made.) Broderick, his stupid ex-girlfriend (Maria Pitillo), a French-Polynesian spy guy (Jean Reno, the only vaguely enjoyable human presence here), and a ballsy cameraman (Hank Azaria) team up to destroy Godzilla's offspring.
The filmmakers' idea of genuine comic relief is to name the mayor Ebert (rotund Michael Lerner) and have his bald advisor, Gene (haha), always slap Ebert's hand away from food. On second thought, stereotypes do abound: Oh, look, the fat guy is hungry. The filmmakers' idea of a device is to have said stupid girlfriend--an aspiring anchor beauty--discover a confidential videotape showing a frightened Japanese man repeating "Gojira...Gojira..." She knows this is a top secret tape because it is labeled as such--"Top Secret"--and she seems to know how bottom-of-the-barrel her news program is because they take the bait and air the snippet as a feature story. Then Ebert wants more food! After the tape airs, Broderick is fired. He and Pitillo fight, and break up again. Who cares? Until the night before, they hadn't seen each other in eight years. And when they met up again, it was only to exchange the worst ex-lover-to-ex-lover dialogue ever to disgrace a movie screen.
To paraphrase Ebert--the critic, not the mayor--I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate this movie. Godzilla is an entirely charmless 139 minutes, unlike its blessedly lean Japanese counterparts. Boring as hell, seemingly edited with a machete and chewing gum, weighted by a screenplay that makes Titanic's read like Edward Albee, Godzilla is the worst cinematic experience I've had in years. Hate-mailers, take note: I am not demanding hyperrealism from a movie about a giant lizard--I'm not even asking for passable dialogue! I'm looking for entertainment, pure and simple: For the reported $130 million budget, I want to mainline summer-movie bliss. Not even the effects held my interest--they turn to digital mush in too many spots.
If this is reading a little too much like one of Harry Knowles's "Ain't-It-Cool" caveman test-screening reviews, my apologies. It isn't too often a picture sparks a fire in me like Godzilla, a steady, burning rage. Independence Day was a terrible movie, but redemptively enjoyable. Godzilla's cinematography and production design can't even match the pastel appeal of ID4's images: almost every shot is a rain-soaked disappointment. (Ladies and gentlemen, let's officially seal that moratorium on homages to Blade Runner.) Perhaps I can't fully convey my loathing for this movie without primal scream therapy, but it looks like I may not be alone in my camp: despite months of hype, the weekend late show of Godzilla at a brand-new multiplex saw an audience of half-capacity. If we're lucky, Godzilla's damage won't end at the credits: It will put an end to bloated, witless, prefab blockbusters for a good, long while. Originally published: May 22, 1998.