Eric D. Snider

Armageddon

In "Armageddon," there's a Texas-sized asteroid headed straight for Earth. The surface of this asteroid, where our heroes spend a surprisingly large amount of time, is a metaphor for the whole movie: visually stunning and almost beautiful, yet also loud, chaotic and inconsistent.

Smirk-faced actor Bruce Willis plays Harry Stanton, an oil driller who is commissioned by the U.S. government to supervise a space shuttle mission to the surface of the approaching asteroid. There Stanton and his men -- a motley crew of two-fisted trouble-makers and "roughnecks," as they're called -- are to drill a hole in the asteroid, drop a nuclear bomb in it, and take off again. They have to drill the hole, though: Merely detonating the bomb on the surface of the asteroid would do no good, which you already know if you've seen "Deep Impact," which is basically the same movie as "Armageddon," except that "Deep Impact" had more heart and not as many explosions.

One cannot judge the big summer blockbusters by normal movie standards, of course. Characterization, good dialogue and strong plots are the exceptions, not the rule, and so we're left with only one measuring stick: Is the movie entertaining?

The answer is yes, I guess, sort of. "Armageddon" is a boiling pot of stew, full of lots of good things and a few bad things -- but definitely boiling, all the time, at full speed.

Visually, the film is impressive. There are some moments of cinematography that are almost brilliant, and even some of the Shots of Things Exploding, of which there are many, are new and different, even to someone who has seen dozens of movies full of Shots of Things Exploding.

Yet at the same time, there are some scenes that seem to have been filmed in Confuse-O-Vision. The very intense yet largely incoherent sequence on a Russian space station is a good example of using lots of shouting, unstable camera work and a loud musical score to trick the audience into thinking something intense is happening, without ever really explaining what it is.

Ben Affleck, as the requisite brash young punk, out-acts Bruce Willis scene-for-scene, actually bringing in some emotion a few times and making something of his character. There are a few sweet moments of real connection with the audience, showing signs of smooth directing and a good screenplay.

Yet at the same time, there are also some embarrassingly dorky bits of dialogue (listen for Willis' heart-felt speech about how he's never failed to reach a goal when it comes to digging a hole), and some plot contrivances that will amaze and astound you with their sheer absurdity.

The film is best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. The scenes in which the oil drillers are being trained as astronauts are completely ridiculous and illogical, but the movie seems to know that, and so they're played for laughs. That is wise, because when "Armageddon" tries to be serious and dramatic, with people rushing around and grimly saying things like, "We've got to inform the President!" and "God help us all," well, that's when things fall apart.

It is impossible to take a movie like this seriously. Unfortunately, the movie tries to force us to do just that a few times too many.

It IS fun, and it IS entertaining. But it's also too loud, too long, and at times too stupid. Even as a mindless popcorn movie, "Armageddon" is only so-so.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, sci-fi disaster action, sensuality and brief language

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