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Shallow Impact

[whitespace] Armageddon
The Wrong Stuff: Bruce Willis and team head for outer space.

'Armageddon' blows up on the big screen

By Richard von Busack

Charlton Heston Let's There Be Light: "This is the Earth," he intones, showing us the globe. Heston describes the big meteor that killed the dinosaurs: "It will happen again. The only question is when." Obviously, what we need are more guns.

A meteor shower devastates New York, and then is not commented upon throughout the rest of Armageddon. (In accordance with federal law, the phrase "This is New York--anything can happen" is uttered by a taxi driver right before the fireworks start.)

Cut to: South China Sea. The brawling oil driller Bruce Willis, called Harry Stamper (the name probably taken from Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion) harasses Greenpeace wimps and chases his daughter's suitor with a shotgun. Why does he bother? The suitor, A.J., is Ben Affleck, Nonthreatening Boys magazine's Boy of the Year. He and the daughter were probably just cuddling. (The big love scene shows us Affleck romping animal crackers over the girl's tummy.)

Liv Tyler, as Grace, Stamper's daughter, has her old man's steel; they quarrel. (Quarreling is big in Jerry Bruckheimer movies: everyone goes toe to toe and bellows. It's proactive!)

Meanwhile, NASA guy Billy Bob Thornton recruits Stamper, the world's greatest driller. He wants to shoot him into space, where he's supposed to drill a hole in a Texas-size meteor menacing the Earth and blast it into pieces with a nuke. Stamper says, Screw these wuss astronauts, I need my own men! Drillers I can trust.

So Stamper, A.J. and a ragtag group of Animal House types are shot into space for the big (90 minutes) video game: Assholes vs. Asteroids. Lots of trademark Bruckheimer slo-mo shots of people in uniform walking across an air force base as Trevor Rabin's moaning score (proposed title: "Synthsezier Dirge for My Long-lost Girlfriend From When I Was 12") butters up the images.

Steve Buscemi doesn't make things any better. Tyler, earthbound, watches A.J. and her dad on TV and cries a lot, a lot, a lot. Paris gets flattened, just like New York--that takes care of the world's elitists--while the American Midwest prays and hangs flags on brick walls for maximum Norman Rockwell cachet.

Here's a movie with the waddling, truculent self-importance of a boar hog. It's exhausting to watch; you get the sense not of filmmaking passion but of hundreds of drudges in cubicles hacking out the special effects, hundreds of working stiffs in Culver City burning their hands on the flame effects, pushing catering trolleys and powdering pancake makeup on Thornton's homely face.

It's mass art in the sense that it looks exactly like the product of the hard, joyless work most of the people on the planet do, and it evinces a death wish loud and clear. Armageddon is no cheat in that respect; it makes a most persuasive argument for the end of the human race.

Armageddon (PG-13), directed by Michael Bay, written by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams, photographed by John Schwartzman and starring Bruce Wills, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler.

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Web extra to the June 25-July 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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