The 101 Action Movies brings us another Michael Bay cotton candy confection of entertainment featuring an extinction level event, too-rapid cutting, cardboard characters, a power ballad, an all-star cast, and a number of well-placed American flags to show how noble and amazing they are.
Bruce Willis leads the cast, playing Harry Stamper an oil rig Roughneck who can drill through anything. And that’s good, because NASA’s chief, Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), has the job of a lifetime for him and his crew. It seems a giant asteroid is on a direct course for Earth, and the plan is to send Stamper and his men up to drill a hole into the asteroid, insert a nuclear device, and blow enough of it apart so that it only skims the atmosphere and leaves the population safely intact.
That is as deep as the story gets, the character development is non-existent, but at least Bay got a talented cast to make the best of it. Ben Affleck as A.J. and Liv Tyler as Grace, Harry’s daughter, supply the saccharine sweet romantic sub-plot, the always under-used Will Patton is Stamper’s right hand man Chick, Steve Buscemi is Rockhound, Owen Wilson is Oscar, Michael Clarke Duncan is Bear, William Fichtner is Colonel Sharp, Peter Stormare is Russian cosmonaut Lev Andropov, and Jason Isaacs is the smartest man on the planet.
The entire film hinges on its special effects and its escalating over-the-top sequences. Happily, even now, the effects stand up rather nicely. The first half of the film features out gang learning to work and operate in outer space, going through an accelerated astronaut training program as well as prepping of the equipment they’ll need once they touch down on the rock.
There is lots of tension and unbelievable sequences, but in for a penny in for a pound. Sharp and Stamper square off over a ticking nuclear weapon, A.J. jumps their vehicle over a canyon, before having it tumble into space, they blow up a Russian space station, and Paris gets wiped out.
The world watches in quiet wonder and fear, leaving me to wonder what I would be doing, as Stamper and his team of blue-collar guys try to save the planet.
The film has no redeeming characteristics at all, but it’s not supposed to. It’s well aware of what it is. It is nothing more than popcorn entertainment, meant to be seen, enjoyed, and summarily dismissed. Were it not for the amazing cast, I’m not sure this movie would still be around. I was never a fan of Bay’s editing style (make sure you watch for his cameo by the way), I like my shots to last longer than 1.5 seconds.
Still, this film is a prime example of the big budget action movies that filled the latter end of the 20th century, and sadly, some still continue in this vein today, thinking that bigger is better, if we show them enough glamour, perhaps the viewer won’t notice the lack of substance.
For me Bay peaked with The Rock. I won’t even talk about the horrors he committed with the Transformers movies…
What do you think?