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Pearl Harbor

Reviewed By Matt Mulcahey
Posted 06/05/01 13:25:16

"Why are people seeing this movie?"
1 stars (Total Crap)

Movies that elevate above the realm of mere entertainment aren’t yet extinct. But audiences that crave them are definitely an endangered species.

I know this because in less than a week, “Pearl Harbor” has already made more money at the box office than “Almost Famous,” “Wonder Boys,” “Memento,” “You Can Count on Me” and “Requiem for a Dream” in their entire theatrical runs combined.

“Pearl Harbor” is the latest from director Michael Bay, a technically sound but emotionally bankrupt filmmaker who’s supplied harmless summer fun in the form of “Bad Boys,” “The Rock,” and “Armageddon.”

Bay’s movies are comprised of explosions, quick-cuts and a music video-like barrage of sounds and images. In the context of an action movie, he is a passable filmmaker.

In the context of an epic romance set against the backdrop of a momentous battle, he’s out of his league. To say that “Pearl Harbor” is style over substance is to imply that the film has some substance at all. It does not.

“Pearl Harbor” is a pre-packaged, pre-fabricated audience pleaser, with a little bit of everything thrown in to placate all demographics: a few laughs, a few bombs, a love triangle and some good old fashioned patriotic bravado.

What “Pearl Harbor” doesn’t have is a single, solitary
developed character, a single line of dialogue that rings true or a single situation that isn’t steeped in sentimentality.

As for Bay’s directorial style, the only real change he seems to make from his past work is lessening his penchant for ultra-quick cuts and replacing them with a record number of close-ups. Of the movies’ three hours, you’ll spend at least half looking at the three leads giant noggins eclipsing the screen.

As with all of Bay’s past efforts, the worst part of the film is the overbearing and intrusive music. He might as well hold up cue cards telling the audience when to laugh, when to cry, when to cheer and when to stand up and salute.

The story centers around childhood friends Rafe McCawley (if that’s not a movie hero name, I don’t know what is), played by Ben Affleck, and Danny Walker, played by Josh Hartnett.

The two grow up with dreams of fighter pilots dancing in their heads, but are torn apart when Affleck is presumed dead and Hartnett falls in love with Affleck’s old flame, an army nurse played by Kate Beckinsale.

This sparkless love triangle fills up the two-hours not occupied by battle sequences, and the “epic” crawls at a snails pace until the Pearl Harbor attack finally comes. Although the battle scene is a truly dazzling spectacle, it’s not nearly enough to overcome the dead weight of the plot or the paper-thin characters.

It’s time to face the fact that Ben Affleck is much more interested in being a big movie star that an actor and that Cuba Gooding, Jr. may never again give a sincere performance.

Kate Beckinsale, so good in Whit Stillman’s underrated “The Last Days of Disco”, is lifeless, and once proud actors Jon Voight (as FDR) and Alec Baldwin (as a grizzled aviator) do some of the worst work of their long careers.

Hartnett, who showed great promise as the hipster lothario in “The Virgin Suicides”, probably gives the films most likable performance despite his and Affleck’s disappearing Southern accents.

The movies final third, consisting of a bombing mission on Tokyo, is completely unnecessary and seems to be tossed in merely because the writer(”Braveheart” scribe Randall Wallace) couldn’t think of any other way to resolve the ill-conceived love
triangle.

Will some of you enjoy “Pearl Harbor?” Undoubtedly. If you are someone who goes to the multiplex a half dozen times a year merely for the escapism, to be dazzled by spectacle, you might enjoy the movie.

I don’t begrudge you, not everyone looks for the same things in a film. Buy a huge bucket of popcorn, pour on some of that liquid coronary butter, ooh and aah, and leave the theater satisfied until “Jurassic Park III” drags itself into theaters.

But if you have even an ounce of respect for the directors and actors who turn film into art, you will not see “Pearl Harbor.” Because every dollar of box office added to this huge, slick, soulless monster is another shovel full of dirt thrown onto the grave of daring, intelligent cinema.

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