It's tough to accurately gauge the quality of a disaster flick like "The Core" (IMDb listing). Sure, these films ("Armageddon," "Independence Day," "Deep Impact") feature atrocious dialog, excruciating attempts at characterization and ludicrous science, but they often are mindless enough to entertain. "The Core" should be noted as the disaster film with the biggest plot whoppers of them all, yet it's so deliriously goofy, and moves so quickly, that the bad taste won't set in until long after you've digested the proceedings.
The core of the Earth has stopped spinning, resulting in catastrophic after-effects for the entire planet. The military has assembled a team of specialists, including scientists (Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, and Tcheky Karyo), astronauts (Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood), and the assistance of a computer hacker (DJ Qualls), to enter a multi-billion dollar laser drill known as the "Virgil," and tunnel to the Earth's core to try to restart its rotation with the assistance of nuclear weapons. The odds are against them, and the planet is quickly deteriorating, but through teamwork and sacrifice, the group forges ahead in a race against time to save humanity.
"The Core" plays ball in the arena of big, fat blockbusters that have endless money behind them, and a special effect every 30 seconds. There is absolutely nothing subtle about this film, even if it purports to be about the human equation within all the destruction and madness. It's not that "The Core" is an awkward picture, but more that it's so defiantly corny, and unable to have any perspective on itself, that, while entertaining, the experience can range wildly from fingernail-chewing to heavy rolling of the eyes in a matter of milliseconds. Director Jon Amiel ("Entrapment") isn't able to assemble anything besides gigantic movements of unsophisticated drama or action, so he keeps his head down and just plays it out as is, praying to find the other side. This results in a picture that lacks the fun disaster film cachet of an "Independence Day," or the Irwin Allen pictures of the 1970s (which this film would have no problem fitting in with), yet it blessedly lacks the laser-focused jingoism, MTV editing, or other Bruckheimer-fueled indulgences found in "Pearl Harbor" or the putrid "Armageddon." It's full-scale catastrophe without the guilt!
Amiel does get the ball rolling impressively in the film's opening moments, which features an off-course space shuttle flying over Los Angeles, then crash landing in a water reservoir. This exceptional sequence promises big thrills in "The Core," and that promise is mostly kept. As insane, or insanely ridiculous, as this film wants to get at times, it's never boring. It keeps finding new ways to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of the plot, even at the expense of logic (though the film takes ample time to breathlessly explain every plot twist). Which brings up this argument: Could "The Core" really happen? Well, this is a science-fiction movie, chock full of Hollywood screenwriting aimed at the broadest possible audience. At the five minute mark, it should be clear that the film is not after your brain, but after your reactions, and it earns those, not a doctorate. The idea is for a thrill ride, not a lesson in physics. Those seeking a scientific debate should simply walk away, because it isn't worth the time or energy to fight a monster like "The Core."
The cast assembled here is mightily impressive, spanning many types of styles and resumes. There's strong work here from Swank, Tucci and Lindo as the three actors make the most out of the little character moments given them by the screenplay. The real star of the film is Aaron Eckhart, an actor normally associated with caustic writer/director Neil LaBute. It's thrilling to see Eckhart commit so totally to this material, giving it his all in each and every scene. At first, I winced at Eckhart's over-enthused line readings. Soon enough, the sheer size of the film catches up with the actor, making for some powerful moments of action and drama outside of all the core mumbo jumbo.
"The Core" is silly, melodramatic, cliched up the yin-yang, and features the random death of thousands of people for your enjoyment. Taken as a popcorn movie, this is fairly entertaining material, presented with a blissful irony-free coating. Take it seriously, and you will be reaching for the aspirin in no time.
Filmfodder Grade: B