Friday, June 1, 2001

Pearl Harbor / * (2001)

The Randall Wallace screenplay that offers a romance-driven rendition of the infamous World War II disaster at Pearl Harbor serves as the newest in a long line of excuses for director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to waste ambition, talent, money and time on a production built around loud noises, gigantic explosions, and not much else. Perhaps we would not be so willing to cave into advanced negative perception, though, had either of them actually done something halfway respectable somewhere in the duration of their incessant careers. The fact is that their adrenaline-pumped endeavors care about little of anything other than numbing the senses, and judging by the latest offering in their endless cycle of big-budgeted drivel, neither has any interest in taking one simple subject seriously either, never mind the fact that they aren’t just tinkering with emotions and special effects this time around, but history itself as well.

Here, the end result is almost too bad for words. “Pearl Harbor” is big, loud, clumsy, offensive, inept and overplayed so immensely, it almost leads to nausea. But then again, could it have even been better without the Bruckheimer/Bay influence? Not likely, considering the story is a recycling bin of ideas and conventions, torn from the scraps of much better movies like “Titanic” and “Saving Private Ryan,” with some added weight left over from “Armageddon.” The negative effect of combining these elements might have been minimal, though, had the writer actually cared about preserving the intricacies of the facts surrounding the events, or at least offered some sense of closure once it was done unraveling. But neither trait is achieved here; the details are left blurred and open to speculation, and the ending seems so unfinished that it leaves audience members feeling like they’ve been stranded in an active battleground.

The premise (or lack thereof) centers on a love triangle that develops when dyslexic ace pilot Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) enlists in the British Air Force, and asks his old country friend Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) to keep an eye on his favorite gal, the beautiful nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). With him gone, of course, passion ensues. But how can either man cope with the situation when the Japanese unexpectedly target Pearl Harbor, the location that both Evelyn and Danny have designated as their own personal rendezvous point? Oh, if we only cared the slightest!

For those who know little of the background that lead to the Pearl Harbor catastrophe, I would not recommend this movie as a history lesson. The plot is extremely shallow on details (mostly because it’s too busy with romantic interludes and loud and fast explosions). In fact, it’s as if the core goal of the movie is to use the actual disaster as merely a backdrop to the love story itself. That kind of decision would be fine if the romance in question was plausible, but Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck and the lady in between them, Kate Beckinsale, are too stern and emotionless on screen to ever create a sense of passion between the characters. The dialogue exchanged between them, meanwhile, is bland and uninspired, pushing their personas so far into the background that the Japanese bombs feel more human than they do.

But the biggest, most insulting aspect of the entire 183-minute tragedy is its nerve to claim that the cast is diverse, when in fact the nonwhite subjects of the movie receive very little screen time. Cuba Gooding, Jr., for instance, is billed as one of the five big stars of the movie, when in fact he gets maybe five or ten total minutes of screen time to himself. What’s the point? And another thing: the disaster took place on Hawaiian territory, and yet the movie features very few Hawaiian natives. Those that are actually featured are very minor players and add little to no significance to the unfolding plot. And the Japanese? Oh, that’s a whole different review in itself...

So why go to see this movie at all? Actually, the only real reason why most people went to see “Pearl Harbor” in the first place was to watch the visual representation of the actual bombing, now considered to be the movie’s “centerpiece.” To its credit, the half-hour sequence that depicts the Japanese attack on American soil is very much observant, despite being too loud and fast for the majority of its existence. This aspect alone at least makes the overall experience a little more watchable than the movie’s closest blockbuster relative, the totally unforgivable “Armageddon.” But in any case, both films still share a lot in common—each, for instance, should be treated as if they were contaminated food products and be removed from public consumption immediately.

Written by DAVID KEYES

War (US); 2001; Rated PG-13; 183 Minutes

Ben Affleck: Rafe McCawley
Josh Hartnett: Danny Walker
Kate Beckinsale: Evelyn Johnson
Cuba Gooding, Jr.: Doris Miller
William Lee Scott: Billy
Greg Zola: Anthony Winkle
Tom Sizemore: Earl
Ewen Bremner: Red
Jon Voight: Franklin Roosevelt
Alec Baldwin: General Doolittle

Produced by Kenny Bates, Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Scott Gardenhour, Bruce Hendricks, K.C. Hodenfield, Jennifer Klein, Chad Oman, Selwyn Roberts, Pat Sandston, Mike Stenson, Barry Waldman and Randall Wallace; Directed by Michael Bay; Screenwritten by Randall Wallace

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