When a tactical weapon developed by the Man inadvertently disrupts the natural rotation of the earth's core, harmful phenomena erupt across the globe. A team of scientists quickly determines that the disruptions will only intensify until life as we know it is wiped out, and so they undertake a risky journey to the center of the planet to set things right, racing against a relentless countdown to extinction.
The Core is another larger than life disaster flick in the tradition of Armageddon and Volcano, following the tired Hollywood blueprint in which a rag-tag group must band together and save the world from some contrived slab of overblown science fiction. But this time, the threat isn't from outer space or on the earth's surface--it's deep within the planet. The motley crew charged with humanity's survival includes an earnest scientist (Aaron Eckhart), a jaded scientist (Stanley Tucci), a foreign scientist (Tcheky Karyo), a black scientist (Delroy Lindo), a chick (Hilary Swank), and a geek (DJ Qualls).
Excuse the sarcasm--it just slipped out. As I wrote that sentence, it became increasingly apparent to me just how generic and unoriginal this character lineup is. Let me try it once more, with feeling: Eckhart is a geophysicist who connects the earth's sudden problems to the disruption in its core; Karyo is a friend and colleague who specializes in atomic weaponry; Tucci is a second geophysicist whose expertise makes him the ideal mission consultant; Lindo is a dedicated scientist who designs the craft capable of traveling to the core; Swank is an astronaut whose superb flight skills land her in the pilot's seat of the ingenious ship; and Qualls is a brilliant computer hacker who must snuff out all information on the planetary peril so as to prevent a worldwide panic.
No matter how you describe it, The Core remains a weak effort that pales in comparison to many of its obvious peers. It tries to combine the action of Armageddon with the human drama of Deep Impact, but instead comes away with the shallow caricatures of the former and the sluggish pacing of the latter--talk about the worst of both worlds. In straddling the line between mindless action and a desire to be sophisticated, the movie fails to capitalize on either extreme.
The first half of the movie suffocates on boring, pseudo-scientific drivel that dumbs everything down low enough to set up the simple premise: "Earth screwed. Must fix." Eckhart's geophysicist even uses a peach as a visual aid to explain the crust-mantle-core structure of the earth to a bunch of military brass who should already know this 3rd grade earth science garbage--but of course, the movie desperately needs to make some of its characters unbelievably clueless so that it has an excuse to explain things to the audience.
The Core briefly pretends it has some compelling conflict in its storytelling arsenal. When Hilary Swank's character has to make a tough command decision that sacrifices one man for the sake of the mission, it looks like she might bust out the Oscar-winnin' mojo that scored her the gold for Boys Don't Cry. But potential drama quickly evaporates into cheesy, ineffectual plays on emotion, like the token family man carrying around a drawing from a kid back at home.
The action follows an equally uninspired pattern in which nothing seems to go right until the very end: malfunctions, miscalculations, and bad luck all strike when one would expect them to surface, and nothing comes as a surprise. People even die in a conventional order, and they do so amidst a load of screaming that is more annoying than tragic.
Positive highlights of this movie can be summed up on an all-too-short list: the craft that takes the scientists to the earth's chewy center is an interesting contraption; an opening sequence of a space shuttle doing an emergency crash landing is thrilling; San Francisco getting microwaved is a highly entertaining fantasy catastrophe; and Hilary Swank scores points just because there's something about a chick who wears a Class A uniform. But these fleeting elements aside, this is a disaster of a disaster flick that can't even distinguish itself in a genre notorious for lackluster entries.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)