Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:30 - Reviewed 7/1/98

Those poor people. Those poor, poor people. All their hopes and dreams shattered; all that they had worked for up in smoke. I'm referring, of course, to the investors who put their money into this movie, all those millions spent on such a terrible, interminable film that gives new meaning to the words "all flash; no substance."

Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay (The Rock), has turned out to be Twister all over again — a movie written around its special effects, with no concern for facts, no credible characters, and no emotional content except cheap sentimentality. It is impossible to count all the plot discrepancies; the story is bulging with unrealistic events. The only thing that saves it from being a total bomb is the effects and John Schwartzman's elegant cinematography. He obviously thought he was working on a serious film, and made it beautiful. But camerawork is not supposed to be the star of the picture; the fact that it's the best thing in the movie says something.

In a pretentious, sexist script written by a team of 10 (one woman, uncredited), the U.S. government learns that an asteroid the size of Texas is approaching Earth. If it hits, the entire global population will be wiped out — either vaporized by the blast or frozen in the resulting nuclear winter. Using all their collective powers of reason, the all-male disaster committee decides that the thing to do is send astronauts to land on it, drill down 800 feet, and detonate a nuclear warhead, breaking it in two.

Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) owns an offshore oil rig, and employs a ragtag group of roughnecks including "A.J." (Ben Affleck), "Rockhound" (Steve Buscemi), "Chick" (Will Patton), and his own daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) among others. Grace has grown up with her father and his employees because of divorce, and therefore has the dubious distinction of being the only featured woman in the movie. She is currently dating A.J. against the wishes of her dad, who wants "something better" for her, although no one explains how he expects her to get it.

Harry is contacted because he is the best driller on the planet. He has invented a super drill (carbide tip, no doubt), and the government team, headed by NASA director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), wants him to teach a group of astronauts to use it. But he insists on using his own men — he doesn't trust anyone else — and remarkably, this group of blue-collar laborers all agree to accompany him into space to do the job. A few "real" astronauts go along to fly the two shuttles, including Col. William Sharp (William Fichtner) and a token woman who has less than five lines in the movie. Everything that can go wrong, does, but despite all reason and all the laws of physics, some of the above people actually survive.

This movie goes on so long that I was giving the door a longing gaze ½ hour before the credits rolled. Talk about overkill — roller-coaster thrills are fine, but everything has a saturation point. The script reads like an overlong SNL sketch; the bungling Russian astronaut caricature reminds me of something from the '70s. Mostly it's too flippant for the subject matter, and the "serious" parts are pretentious and overdramatic. The romantic content is cloying and supersweet, and Buscemi is the only actor in the film who displays any kind of realistic human characteristics. His face constantly betrays his lack of confidence in the mission, as if he's always thinking, "How did I get myself into this?!" Come to think of it, maybe he wasn't acting. **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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