Pearl Harbor

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 06/23/01 17:22:34

"Let me get this straight..."
1 stars (Total Crap)

It's now OK to make movies about history's greatest tragedies, but ONLY if we frame the tragic carnage with moronic dialogue, stultifying plot contrivances and the latest in CGI explosions all in an effort to appease the Gods of the Box Office? We are truly a nation of ghouls. Call me a nitpicker, put it seems kinda perverse to make a movie called Pearl Harbor and then treat all the Americans who were killed there as mere plot devices at best - and fodder for oh-so-cool-looking CGI genocide, at its worst. Our soldiers who never made it home are now relegated to being smashed and bloody bits of digital code.

I'm bound to get a lot of hate mail for saying this, but the only next logical step is for filmmakers to plop Kirsten Dunst and Freddie Prinze in a Nazi concentration camp and work the whole 'meet cute' scenario. I can see it now: Simon West will direct, Kirsten will play a pale-faced but spunky Polish lass and Prinze could be the ambitious yet sympathetic SS stormtrooper who leads a really violent rebellion against his superiors. And Freddie doesn't stop shooting until the climactic final kung-fu battle with Hitler himself! Throw in a inspirationally lilting score, the wacky gay Polish emigre sidekick, a screenplay culled from ideas that were hopelessly dated when George Burns was a zygote and a release date somewhere around Passover. What? That would be inappropriate? Offensive, even?

Then forget about me and start emailing Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. These guys should be wallowing in guilt for this vile tripe, but I bet they're too busy swimming in one another's wallets. That's right. MONEY. That's what this kind of Hollywood product represents, period. What other force besides greed could allow a major motion picture studio to release a movie that is so callow, so shallow and so goddam disrespectful? If my grandfather (a WWII vet, of course) were still alive, I'd rather steer him into a double feature of Tomcats and Freddy Got Fingered than this movie. This man deserves a hell of a lot better than being immortalized as a casualty of a CGI "money shot".

For example, about halfway through the oft-mentioned battle sequence, a gigantic battleship explodes and a handful of unfortunate soldiers are seen being tossed through the air before careening loudly off of the ship's massive propeller blades. The audience surrounding me went "Oooh!" with a noticable amount of glee and even clapped a bit. I wonder of any of those people behind me lost a loved one at Pearl Harbor. I doubt it.

As a big fan of Michael Bay's earlier movies, especially The Rock and (forgive me) Armageddon, I've found myself defending this filmmaker quite a lot. I've always contended that he has a great eye for visual flair and a knack for making an action sequence truly kick. Basically, Michael Bay is a great comic-book filmmaker. Unfortunately, the story of how 3,000 Americans lost their lives in 1941 is NOT A COMIC BOOK STORY!

Sorry for yelling, but I see a movie like Pearl Harbor as a final nail in the coffin of American Cinematic Class, as in Hollywood is now officially as sleazy as Jerry Springer and The National Enquirer. I find it really hard to believe that nobody involved with the production of this movie stopped for a second, looked around and said:

"Hey, this is not even close to what happened at Pearl Harbor. Are we insane?"

While a movie like James Cameron's Titanic (which is so obviously the inspiration for this film that I need not even elaborate) is guilty as the same offenses as Pearl Harbor, I was able to give Cameron's film a little slack because of his obvious fascination with the ship itself and also because Cameron is a monumentally better filmmaker than Bay.

Another factor that makes Pearl Harbor such a massive disappointment is that it contains several components that probably deserve to be a part of a better movie, such as Bay's trademark panache for filming a sunset, a sweet performance by Kate Beckinsale and a warehouse of cool deaths, explosions and random carnage that would be a heck of a lot more fun if they were - oh I don't know - FICTIONAL???

OK, rants aside. Here's the plot...and I use the word "plot" mainly because "pathetic and predictable love story/buddy movie machinations that nauseated me" is too wordy:

Rafe is Ben Affleck, our hero. He's handsome, joyfully illiterate and is of course meant to be the prototypical larger-than-life American Heroic Icon. (As a guy who generally defends Ben Affleck, I have to admit that he's lazy and fairly charmless throughout this movie.) Danny is Josh Hartnett who is like your average puppy dog-sidekick-best buddy thing. Oh, and there's a pretty girl. Dan Aykroyd is a smart military guy. John Voight is "that one president who was in a wheelchair". Tom Sizemore plays a grizzled Tom Sizemore-guy. Lovers meet. Complications ensue. Things explode. Complications are rectified by convenient deaths. The 23-minute end credits roll.

So what I've learned here is that if you added up all of the real-life tragedy, heroism and sacrifices made at Pearl Harbor, none of those stories would be as good as a godawful love triangle tryst. Randall Wallace must have cashed his paycheck early on, because I cannot imagine how this movie was released with so many truly atrocious lines of dialogue. Forget that the love story is as dated as potting soil and that sincere character development consists of about 34 seconds of eyebrow-tilting. Wallace fails here for the spoken words alone. Without an honest script, there is nothing to get behind.

Here is a list of words I jotted down regarding Wallace's screenplay: banal, predictable, cliche-strewn, drab, dull, uninteresting, contrived, manipulative, lazy, offensive, unconvincing, forced, stupid. (I stopped there because my pen ran out of ink due to me stabbing myself under my kneecap to stay awake.) Simply recycling the worst parts of Titanic won't cut it, Randall. I don't care how many billions your inspiration has grossed so far.

Let me refute your arguments right now. If I bash a movie like The Mummy Returns, you still could argue that the film is mindless Hollywood pap and perhaps I expected too much. I'd argue back, but at least you'd have made a good point. But when I bash a movie so disturbingly soulless as Pearl Harbor, what's the argument then? Surely the tragedies and truth behind the Pearl Harbor attack deserve a better depiction than a bunch of ancient zombies and Mummy hunters do. And Pearl Harbor is easily as empty, stupid and mindless as The Mummy Returns is. Think about that.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.