Directed by: Jon Amiel
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Tchkey Karyo, DJ Qualls
I wish I knew whether anyone involved in making The Core was being serious. I'm tempted to believe that at least director Jon Amiel and most of the cast were kidding.
Top-billed screenwriter Cooper Layne has no other writing credits (though an executive-producer credit on The Emperors' Club bodes ill), so it's hard to gauge his stance. Co-screenwriter John Rogers, on the other hand, worked on the screenplay for that dismal cute-boys-with-big-guns Western American Outlaws, so there's a good chance he might have thought that The Core was indeed a serious project. Whatever the intent, the resulting movie is pretty darn funny. It's somewhere in between a cheesy 1950s sci-fi end-of-the-world movie, a cheesy 1960s Japanese sci-fi end-of-the-world film and a cheesy 1970s disaster flick. Perhaps you notice the common denominator -- you'd need a year's output of Ritz Crackers to scoop up this much cheese. That anyone could make this movie after Tim Burton's deliberate parody/homage to bad sci-fi, Mars Attacks!, and take themselves seriously strains my credulity -- and possibly knocks my faith in human evolution down a few rungs.
Unless you've missed the ubiquitous trailers for The Core, you already know that the premise is a kind of subterranean Armageddon. The earth's core has stopped spinning (have the screenwriters checked this out with a How and Why Wonder Book?), which is causing the kind of unnatural natural disasters that only occur in movies. You know the sort -- those calamities that only affect well-known national monuments like the Coliseum in Rome and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (which are also perennial targets for alien invaders).
With the aid of a can of air-freshener, a peach on a fork and a Bic lighter (kids, don't try this at home!), way-cool college professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, wondering how he went from Possession to this, and why they didn't give him a pipe and glasses for the role) demonstrates to an assembly of the United States' Powers That Be what the stalled core will ultimately mean. The gathered brain trust is mightily impressed by incendiary produce, so they cough up $50 billion to finish off some supersonic subterranean rocket ship that reclusive scientist Dr. Edward Brazleton (Delroy Lindo) has (apparently with no income) been working on. Why? So that Keyes, Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci with a hairpiece), Sergei Leveque (Tcheky Karyo), Major Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank, hoping this movie will vanish faster than The Affair of the Necklace), and Colonel Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) can bore their way to the center of the earth. Why? So they can set off a nuclear bomb and jump-start the core!
The fate of the planet is in their hands, so we're all supposed to be performing dental-inflicted self manicures here. Well, if you can stop laughing at the combined screwiness and over-the-top acting, I suppose you might at least gnaw off a hangnail in the process.
By now, you're probably wondering why I'm giving this movie a three out of five rating, or thinking someone in the production department inadvertently pasted in the wrong guy-in-theater-seat icon. The fact is, I can't say I didn't enjoy The Core on a silly, stupid, scenery-chewing level. Whether or not the film is intentionally so bad it's good, it nonetheless remains entertaining nonsense. Aaron Eckhart and Stanley Tucci (the latter actually has quite a few good moments of a subtler kind as the egotistical Zimsky) are in a dead-heat for most-overwrought performance of the year -- something that in itself makes the film watchable in a perversely fascinating manner.
If you take The Core as an overlong (at 135 minutes, it does wear out its amusement value), overproduced, bombastic version of something you might have watched at a Saturday matinee 40 years ago, it's an OK time at the movies. I'm not sure I'd ever want to see it again, but I'm not sorry I saw it once, even though I'm left with one burning question: Do they really keep a can of air freshener on hand in the War Room?