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The Core: Frank's Thoughts

01/05/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Core in the USA - or Buy The Core in the UK

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The Core definitely had the making for fascinating sci-fi stimulation. The attempt to turn the scientific discipline of electromagnetism into a robust and cheeky mainstream entertainment seemed quite challenging in concept.

The Core (2003) Paramount Pictures
2 hrs. 15 mins.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Alfre Woodard, Bruce Greenwood, D.J. Qualls, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Jon Amiel
Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

The Core definitely had the making for fascinating sci-fi stimulation. The attempt to turn the scientific discipline of electro-magnetism into a robust and cheeky mainstream entertainment seemed quite challenging in concept.

With a display of top-notch actors on hand to give some credibility to this high-volume fantasy that wants us to engage our collective imaginations in exploring the thrill ride behind the curiosity of the earthís hidden core, director Jon Amiel hatches an ambitious but silly-minded probe into a preposterous popcorn movie that almost makes Armageddon look like an operatic experience in comparison.

The Core: Film Review

Amiel does energize his bombastic narrative with an intermittent vibrant visual urgency that awkwardly accompanies the filmís occasional wacky tone. Despite the boisterous production values of this overwrought and unevenly irreverent disaster B movie, The Core never really shows us anything worth exploring under its nonsensical albeit volatile crusty surface.

Amiel, along with writers Cooper Layne and John Rogers, do serve up some tasty tidbits with a glimpse of sharp dialogue and the penchant for showcasing typical over-the-top catastrophic sequences that emphasize the standard dramatic pulse of this ridiculously glorified and wayward action-adventure.

The Core wants to have it both ways and appeal to giddy movie audiences on two vastly different levels in terms of balancing its intelligence and intrigue. The convoluted premise and the suspense it wants to signify in droves have this pseudo-smartness to it that never rings true.

Amielís outrageous exposition is indeed an excitable and off-the-wall display that will most likely invigorate and amuse moviegoers in all its goofy grandeur.

But this apocalyptic spectacle manages to inconsistently weave together a series of clichéd disastrous dilemmas in the course of passing itself off as compelling yet the cartoonish goings-on undermine the intriguing details the movie brings to the forefront in terms of its intricate dealings with something as involving and sophisticated as shedding some light about the planetís electromagnetic field and the destructive deterioration that it may cause as the result of its disruptive state.

While close to dangerously being touted as the millenniumís remade version of a cerebral-minded Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Core tells the big-budgeted blockbuster tale of a bunch of dedicated scientists trying to solve the immense mystery of an ominous force that threatens the Earthís inner core rotation.

Because of this major circumstance, the planetís magnetic field is vulnerable thus making our atmosphere weakened therefore being subject to a global breakdown of tremendous deadly proportions. Whether having birds uncharacteristically flying into their human counterparts in London or folks suffering from strange health-related ailments in New England because the world is out of whack, something needs to be done about this pending environmental mishap and quick.

A key observer behind this weird worldwide occurrence is fidgety but brilliant professor and geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, In the Company of Men, Possession) who assembles a team of extremely astute scientists and astronauts to investigate this shocking planetary phenomenon.

The plan at hand: to arrange an edgy field trip by traveling into the Earthís unsettling core courtesy of a spiffy-looking subterranean craft dubbed "Virgil" where they hope to detonate a complicated device that will fix the coreís malfunctioning axis and restore it back to its functioning capabilities.

Joining Keyes on this menacing mission is fearless and plucky pilot Major Rebecca "Beck" Childs (Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank) and her flyboy commander Colonel Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood). Also in tow are the usual tag-along of diverse caricatured personalities sprinkled in conveniently to instill some friction and frivolity into the perfunctory proceedings.

Keyes recruits a respected but cynically arrogant colleague Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) who in turn taps emotionally distant but intellectual Dr. Edward Brazleton (Delroy Lindo) to accompany them on this hostile adventure. Dr. Sergei Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) is Keyesís French sidekick/contemporary and no nonsense Mission control head (Alfre Woodard) is on the scene to reinforce stability amongst the group.

And teenage techno-titan Rat (D.J. Qualls) is figured into the mix as well thanks to his electronic savvy (hmmmÖis this an intentional insurance policy to bribe the youthful moviegoers out there into checking out this frenetic gadget-infested flick based on his sole useless participation?).

Inevitably, there will be an element out there that will simply dismiss The Core as pure escapist fun in the anticipation that indiscriminate sci-fi fanatics will be looking to wallow in something aimlessly dressy, absurd and high-maintenance.

However, harboring this kind of mindset may just backfire because Amielís clumsy and undisciplined direction does not give credence for him as a competent filmmaker to arbitrarily cobble together sensationalistic sequences in hopes of appeasing audiences with an empty-headed and chest-thumping project.

This movie wonít fool diehard sci-fi followers with its questionable doses of implausibility and skimpy scientific rationalizations even if it was purposely meant to exist in the tradition of delivering an overzealous satire devoted to spotlighting the rage of this sort of celebrated genre.

And for common moviegoers who may not consider themselves schooled in the fascination of science fiction sensibilities, the techno-babble and special effects symmetry thatís generated in this hollow high-caliber showcase will either feel too overwhelming or categorically inane to the point that they would readily embrace any welcomed indifference.

In general, a decent science fiction vehicle would hopefully inspire one to grasp a sense of the unknown and motivate the individual to seek out truths no matter how big or small. Even in mediocrity, some sci-fi fare can enhance this very same feeling. But with The Core, thereís never really quite a true or genuine revelation about how we should interpret its vague and laughable wonderment.

Amiel and his screenwriters only serve us half-hearted treats that merely scratch our appetites at best. Surprisingly, the CGI are eye-popping in its spryness one moment then inexplicably pared-down and shoddy the next moment. We then get the sudden shock treatment of having the grease hit the pan by the way the moviemakers haphazardly pour on the tragic trial and tribulations as we witness everyday life gone haywire: the collapsing of the Golden Gate Bridge, the explosion of the Roman coliseum, etc.

Yet thereís never any surging momentum or hint of dire loss we express with frothy concern behind this mayhem. And then what about some of the spunky heroes aboard the Virgil that start to perish just as the exploration into the coreís axis becomes clearly defined?

Having these participants eliminated so matter-of-factly feels like filler just to fulfill the filmís dramatic lapses. Plus, how long will folks patiently sit still just to see a handful of renegade know-it-alls monotonously drilling through the Earthís stubborn and solid inner ground while trying to maintain respectable interest in this plunging subplot?

The movie systematically trudges along and doesnít mind casually eradicating its transparent and expendable characters as previously mentioned (whether it be by ludicrously focusing upon a precise group of pacemaker-wearing people dropping dead within a carefully structured geographical area (huh?) or the pre-selected fish bait of the Virgil crew meeting their Maker in an Alien-like fate) or launching some zany excuse to blowing up territorial landmarks around the globe in a feeble showing of demonstrating some harried heartfelt sentiment to serve as a companion piece to the meaningless elevated high jinks taking place.

Consequently, The Core is a breezy and banal exorcise that basically goes through all the worn out conventional motions of a meandering mainstream sci-fi movie that blows its own shapeless horn without bothering to make a cohesive and creative sound.

No matter how outrageous or noble this rousing yarn pretends to be, Amiel and his cinematic collaborators donít dig deep enough to get the root of the haplessly hokey excitement. Cheesier and greater expensive sci-fi offerings have been cited before.

So in hindsight something as flimsy and far-fetched as this decorated dud may not necessarily be the end of our universe as we know it. But hey, itís still close to being an uneventfully bopping bore that can easily be perceived as derivativelyÖuh, excuse the punÖ "rotten to the core".

Frank rates this film: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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