The Core

The Earth’s core has stopped spinning, and that’s bad. Real bad. Without the magnetic field that it generates, the Earth becomes vulnerable to all sorts of bad things like electrical pulses that stop people wearing pacemakers dead in their tracks, birds losing their sense of direction, fierce storms capable of destroying whole cities. Oh yeah, and bad movies about all of these events.

“The Core,” a modern day disaster movie, looks and sounds as old as the hills, and that’s bad. Real bad. Delayed from its Fall release so that the filmmakers could spruce up the special visual effects, “The Core” pretends to be a smart science-fiction thriller, but suffers from a dumb screenplay that digs up every lame disaster movie chestnut in the book.

The first half of “The Core” is better than the last, but that’s like saying the end of a spear someone shoved into your head didn’t hurt as much as the tip. Painfully obvious and unintentionally funny, “The Core” reminded me of those Saturday morning adventure shows of the 1970s, where the special effects were just as cheesy as the writing and direction. You didn’t blame the actors, because when you’re working with Limburger, it’s hard not to stink.

The screenplay by Cooper Layne and John Rogers shamelessly borrows from all that came before, including “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “Fantastic Voyage,” and even close cousins “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.” When the core stops spinning (don’t worry, the script spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the process), a group of highly trained specialists must burrow their way to the middle of the Earth and give it a nudge. Time is of the essence (isn’t it always in these types of movies), so they have to move fast or watch Earth become toast.

What makes the script so laughable is that everything is so convenient. The government needs a vessel capable of tunneling to the center of the Earth that can withstand extreme heat, which just happens to be the project rogue scientist Dr. Ed “Braz” Brazzleton (Delroy Lindo) has been working on in a less-than-top-secret facility in the middle of the desert. The project also requires two top flight navigators, which they find in NASA shuttle astronauts Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank) and Colonel Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood).

The brains behind the project include dashing and charismatic college science professor Dr. John Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), his Russian counterpart Dr. Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo), and pompous authority Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci, in a toupee that’s as bad as the film’s special visual effects). Of course there has to be a nefarious military type guiding them on the surface (Richard Jenkins), a caring female point-of-view (Alfre Woodard), and a geek computer expert capable of hacking the planet (D.J. Qualls).

Equally convenient is the mission’s point of view, which shows us the cigar-shaped vessel as it makes its way to the middle of the Earth, encountering one unexpected obstacle after another. Convenient because the ship’s laser is only capable of drilling a hole in front of it, yet we constantly see expansive side views that only Superman could see with his X-ray vision.

Convenient because it doesn’t take a college professor to immediately pick which among the six “terranauts” will sacrifice their lives in order for the mission to succeed. Convenient because since time is of the essence, everything below and on the surface occurs with the precision of a stopwatch. Every close call is calculated, leaving no room for suspense or surprise. You could set your clock by this film, but you’d just be wasting your time, which the film does at an almost unbearable 135 minutes.

The additional months granted to the visual effects team was also a waste of time, as every major set piece (the Coliseum exploding, the Golden Gate Bridge melting) look like they were lifted from a bad “Godzilla” movie.” Not once do you believe that anyone in this film is in real peril. The audience? Now, that’s a different story.

Even though director Jon Amiel has picked an unconventional cast, they’re not given much to do. It’s sad to see independent stars like Eckhart, Swank, and Tucci reduced to by-the-numbers performances. They all would have been better off if the world just exploded. Now that’s entertainment.


Journey to the center of the mirth


Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Bruce Greenwood, Tcheky Karyo, D.J. Qualls, Alfre Woodard. Directed by Jon Amiel. Rated PG-13. 135 Minutes.


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