starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck
written by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams
directed by Michael Bay
by Bill Chambers It rocks--actually, lots of rocks fly at us or away from us, in slow or fast motion, at several points in Armageddon. They seem like dangerous rocks because they kind of twirl through the air instead of just propelling forward, and when they make landfall--once in a while, when we need a break from the outer-space sequences--they cause damage enough to destroy the Chrysler building. (Nary a mention of these apocalyptic events is made after they occur.) Rocks might also be the most interesting element of Armageddon, a steroid abuser's answer to Deep Impact.
Bruce Willis stars as Harry Stamper, a famed (?) oil-driller commissioned by the White House and NASA to stop a giant asteroid before it travels past "zero-barrier" and destroys our planet. Why an oil driller? They require someone experienced in deep-core mining to plant a nuclear missile on said asteroid. (In one unintentionally (?) hilarious sequence, NASA asks Harry to inspect a deep-core driller they whipped up based on his blueprints, and Harry criticizes almost every aspect of the flawed thing. We trust NASA to build space shuttles that can land on twirling boulders in the first place?) Harry assembles the obligatory "ragtag" bunch of "cowboys," including a blond guy, a fat guy, a black guy, a wiseass, and the man who is sleeping with his daughter (Ben Affleck), played by Liv Tyler. Once they reach the Great Beyond, we're subjected to sequence after sequence of something going amiss; maybe NASA should not have sought out miners from Central Casting. I cannot count the number of times they almost fail the mission on all my fingers and toes. Whether or not they save the day, I will not reveal. Nor will you care.
You know you're in trouble when the soapy Deep Impact dwarfs your asteroid movie in terms of emotion and scope. Willis has barely a chance to come alive; ditto, Affleck. Their big scenes are mostly reserved for the third act, in a last-minute--and futile--attempt to inject the material with warmth. Steve Buscemi's character--the wiseass--is exceptionally problematic. "Rockhound," as he's called, is sarcastic and foolish, so they secure him to a chair with tape, where he spends most of the film. Why did they bring him up there to begin with? Rather, why write him into the film? Give his almost-witty one-liners to serious Willis, here playing a scowling, moping borderline psychotic. At one point, like a farmer in a READER'S DIGEST joke, he chases after Affleck with his shotgun for screwing his daughter, firing often and causing significant damage to his own oil rig. I'm guessing that he qualifies under NASA guidelines as unfit for space travel, at least in my world where most dogs have four legs.
Tyler is typically humourless as Harry's pretty offspring, Grace. (Suspiciously, four of her father's band's (Aerosmith) songs grace the soundtrack.) Director Michael Bay lays the visual and sound effects on thick, like ketchup, eventually drowning out the movie on-screen. (The middle hour is a non-sensical, pyrotechnic assault on the senses.) Whenever someone dies in this movie, a crew member inevitably yells out: "We lost (insert dead person's last name here)!" I must admit that not once could I distinguish a dead oil-guy-cum-astronaut from a live one, and close-ups of the corpses beneath cracked helmets provided little assistance, as their faces were often so smeared with fake blood as to be beyond recognition.
Armageddon is not as terrible a movie as Godzilla. It looks prettier and has fewer plotholes within its equally ludicrous framework. It has a vivid if trying soundmix. But I could not believe how little actually transpired over the course of almost two-and-a-half hours. The love story has been played up in the ads, perhaps hoping to catch people before they recover from Titanic-fever. Bollocks! The lovers in the film are miles apart throughout--erase all thoughts of nude sketching or car-sex and replace them with obligatory shots of Liv Tyler tearing up while Ben Affleck dicks around in a moon-crawler.
Remember a film called Jaws? Three contentious men suddenly found themselves on a fishing boat in pursuit of a deadly shark. One of Jaws' great scenes involved the would-be Ahabs boozing up and singing songs and telling, for all intents and purposes, ghost stories. This is the sort of male-bonding foreign to Bay and his producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, who throw too many characters into the mix and expect us to care about them on the grounds that the world is on the verge of apocalypse. Not once do we get the feeling that these guys are even acquaintances--I'd be surprised if the actors bothered to introduce themselves to one another before "action" was called.
A male fan of the film--a friend--suggested to me that perhaps I cannot relate to a bunch of men who don't bare their souls, who cling to dying macho concepts and equate bravado with bravery. To this, I will respond that the boys in Armageddon are neither heroic, nor brave, nor smart, even: this team couldn't build a birdhouse. And if I lose your respect for disliking a movie with all the synthetic feeling of a trailer for a movie cobbled together by a team of frat boys and greeting-card authors, well, I've never been a prouder wimp my whole life.