starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci
screenplay by Cooper Layne and John Rogers
directed by Jon Amiel
by Walter Chaw Jon Amiel's poorly-timed disaster throwback The Core is a by-the-numbers affair that features the sort of special effects mayhem that folks will reference when terrorists blow-up the Acropolis--perhaps explaining in part why this bombastic summer film is being rushed into release in the late-winter doldrums: better to get it in movieplexes before it has to be delayed for a few months. But with unfortunate mentions of the Al Jazeera news agency and a botched shuttle landing that is exceedingly uncomfortable given its proximity to NASA's recent tragedy, it could just be that The Core is a bad idea for any time, and releasing it when no one is likely to see it is just a cut-your-losses sort of thing. The Core is probably betting that people are more fatigued by the Riefenstahl-ian "embedded" live coverage of our troops in action than by their over-familiarity with this kind of Armageddon/Deep Impact/Poseidon Adventure falderal, when the truth is that it's possible to be tired of both.
A lot like Fantastic Voyage with Mother Earth the ailing body in question, The Core takes a mismatched crew of lovable misfits into An Incredible Journey Into the Unknown!. There's the grizzled shuttle commander Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and his plucky second-in-command, Beck (Hilary Swank, playing a girl); the eccentric scientist with a dream, Brazleton (Delroy Lindo); the rumpled college professor who discovers the Awful Truth on his own (Keyes (Aaron Eckhart)); the egoist badly in need of a redemptive martyrdom Zimsky (Stanley Tucci); the gangly hacker nerd (DJ Qualls); and that rarest of mythological beasts, the heroic Frenchman (Sergei (Tchéky Karyo). In a giant, segmented (each segment primed to detach when hull integrity is breached), phallic tube called Virgil (after Dante's guide through hell), our heroes embark into a molten anal-aperture at the bottom of the Marianas Trench (recalling in graphic terms that "core" can also be a verb) on a quest to "restart" the "stalled" middle and get the Earth's electro-magnetic field back online.
With a couple of lines proving that The Core isn't taking itself all that seriously ("Let's make a quick thirty million," says one guy; "Hang on, this is not going to be subtle," says another), the picture actually washes out as fun in a perversely hilarious sort of way. (When Keyes barbecues an apple with a can of hairspray and a lighter to demonstrate Earth's predicament sans EM field, the camp symbolism is just too juicy to ignore.) Between the centre of the planet being well-lit and Amiel's desire to inspire the false-awe of the conclusion of Mission to Mars in a giant geode sequence (oooh, amethyst), it's almost possible not to wonder why mysterious "Project DESTINI" is constantly correctly misspelled as "Project Destiny," and why the most important equipment on the ship (triggers for the nuclear weapons intended as the Earth's defibrillation paddles) is stored in the segment most likely to be detached first. It's also almost possible to not wonder what would happen if the main cabin were damaged, thus necessitating its detachment--amputation not being a great treatment for a neck-wound and all.
What works about The Core is the cheerfulness with which it handles the conventions of the disaster movie genre. Mad pigeon attacks, the best use of whales since Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and not one, but five green-timer countdown sequences--each go a long way towards blunting the essential tastelessness of a disaster movie in a historical epoch where actual disasters are grim reality and constant possibility. If a sense of its own ridiculousness doesn't go all the way in assuaging its bad taste, at bare minimum it provides an interesting glimmer of a future where The Core will be looked upon as a reflection of our alarmist zeitgeist rather than an exploitive bit of effluvia. At least, we can hope. Originally published: March 28, 2003.