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[whitespace] 'Pearl Harbor'
Running Man: Ben Afflick makes his move in 'Pearl Harbor.'

Bombs Away

'Pearl Harbor' blitzes the audience with CGI attacks

By Richard von Busack

PEARL HARBOR, or, From Here to Inanity. Director Michael Bay wallops the audience with catastrophe, and the tactic works, sort of--three hours later, you're almost as sick of the war as the soldiers who fought in it.

The plot is primordial movie stuff: a love triangle between the undernourished Kate Beckinsale's Navy nurse Evelyn and two hotshot pilots: one played by the unnuanced square-jawed Ben Affleck, the other, Best Friend-material Josh Hartnett. The tedium of the early romance scenes are such that by one hour in, you're ready to start waving an orange flashlight to lead the Japanese armada to the harbor, just to see the promised bombing, already. But as in Titanic, you get so much more than you bargained for. Yes, the attack is a technical feat of fire and carnage, but I was glutted and sickened fast by it. And it goes on, and on. The whole last 45 minutes is based on Jimmy Doolittle's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo raid, with Alec Baldwin alarmingly jolly as the colonel. It's included strictly as payback time.

Somewhere in this film's bulk are unanswered questions about how Affleck's character learned origami (back in Tennessee in the 1930s?) or survived floating across the English channel without a boat, or whether a love scene in the parachute-covered floor of an air hangar leads to jumping fatalities by "streamers" the next day. But director Bay is more interested in making small TV commercial moments than hooking them all together. Shameless isn't the word--how about the slo-mo, glossy scenes on the Japanese aircraft carrier: "The Imperial Navy--it's not just a job, it's an adventure." How about FDR wheedling sympathy for his leg braces (a tactic Bay used when he did the Tiny Tim number on Billy Bob Thornton in Armageddon.) Jon Voigt's FDR and the one-named actor Mako's Admiral Yamamoto are slight reliefs, yes; both look old enough to remember the war, or at least its consequences. But the feel-good, all-for-the-best spin Bay puts on this disasterous attack is an insult to the intelligence--at least to the intelligence of the craftsmen that built his special effects here. The obscene cheerleading mentality Bay displays, as he sucks the juice out of one war movie after another, might have been justifiable--but just barely--back when these kind of films were needed as propaganda for morale. Those 1940s filmmakers lied to save their country; Bay's just doing it for the bucks. Early on in the film, Affleck tells a lie and then defends it saying, "It's bullshit, but very, very good bullshit." Pearl Harbor doesn't pass that basic test.

Pearl Harbor (PG-13; 183 min.) directed by Michael Bay, written by Randall Wallace, photographed by John Schwartzman and starring Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the May 31-June 6, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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