The Bottom Line: Well, Aerosmith finally surpassed the sap limit.
Well, good readers, here it is. The statement you'll hear once, disagree with, toss it aside and never think of again. And I should mention that, as a statement about movies, it will probably come off as a little sacreligious.
Ready? Here it is: Bruce Willis is a good actor.
Now, before you flood me with hate comments and computer viruses, hear me out. Bruce Willis, in kind of the same way Tom Hanks does (remember, I said kind of), represents a certain type of working class man. He takes ordinary working man parts and instead of overdramatising, portrays these characters in the same way that and ordinary working class guy off the streets would. I'm not trying to underplay the talents of great actors like Hanks or Al Pacino here, it's nice that they can portray emotion so brilliantly. But face the facts: In real life, people try to hold back their tears every now and then, just like Bruce Willis.
Was that last statement not enough? Then I'll give you an unimpeachable source: The Emmy he won for Moonlighting.
That being said, Willis gives a particularly heart-wrenching performance in Armageddon, a giant action movie from Jerry Bruckhiemer and Michael Bay that can't decide if it wants to be a lighthearted action comedy or an emotional action drama. And Willis gives this performance among a rather intimidating cast. Ben Affleck plays his promising but hotheaded young prodigy, Billy Bob Thornton plays the director of NASA, and the secondary characters whose names I can never remember in movies like this are covered by Will Patton, Michael Clark Duncan and Steve Buscemi among others. Oh, and Liv Tyler as his daughter, but we're talking about talented actors here, so she doesn't count.
And yet. Even with all that talent doing their best to salvage this rather poorly written piece of work, Mike Bay still manages to make this thing fall flat on its face. The thing is, Bay has the talent to become a great action director someday. We've seen it: His first movie, Bad Boys, was a clever, funny action comedy that worked because it didn't try to take itself too seriously. His second, The Rock, was an exciting action drama that worked because it didn't try to take itself too lightly. But Bay got a little too ambitious in making the world almost come to an end, and the result looks like... Well, armageddon.
Armageddon is supposed to be the day that the world turns upside-down and no one will be able to tell what's what. Ditto this movie. Excitment, to Michael Bay, it seems is a close-up of Bruce Willis's desperate looking face, then a quich flash to Ben Affleck's desperate looking face, another quick cut to Liv Tyler worrying about daddy and a clever one'liner from Steve Buscemi. There are so many cuts to close-ups that you can never tell what's what. What's going on in this scene? Hey, Mike, give us a pan of the asteroid every now and then, let us see what's going on so we're not stuck with just the weak script descriptions.
Anyway. Story. After being told by Charlton Heston that a big rock is gonna hit the earth and wipe out mankind someday, the camera moves back a little. Ooh, here it comes right now! And thanks to the amazing telescope technology at NASA, we know about it a good three weeks in advance. So the guys at space central go nuts trying to figure out a way to destroy the Texas-sized asteroid or at least get it off our backs. And so the mindless action part of the story is now under way.
Enter Willis playing oil driller Harry Stamper, waking up the local Greenpeace protesters with golf balls. Now here we set up the emotional part of the story. Preparing for a big meeting, Harry goes to wake his number one man, AJ (Affleck), only to find out that that he's been sleeping with Harry's daughter, Grace. So daddy dearest gets upset upon finding out that Gracie has fallen for a man just like him and literally chases AJ around the rig with a shotgun.
Soon after, NASA shows up to take them to HQ and brief them on the rock situation. They've got a team set up to deal with things like this and want Harry's approval on the drill design they stole from him. After getting really angry about the theft of his design, Harry then meets the team of NASA specialists (read: Boy scouts. Fairies is also acceptable) and decides that, no, he does not want the fate of the world to rest on these wimps. Time to call in his team of wildsiders, who are tracked down and caught to the tune of Aerosmith's remake of Come Together. The following scenes consist of Harry's team getting trained and tortured both mentally and physically in ways they often can't take.
Well, no matter how poorly they did, they still get to be launched into space to fight the asteroid. And this is the precise moment that the movie switches gears, from action comedy to action drama. Armageddon is a Disney flick, so of course they manage to grit their teeth, fight it out and save the world, but not before going through some unbelieveable crises first. On the way to the asteroid, they have to stop at a space station to refuel and the station explodes. The ships get seperated upon touchdown, one group has to jump across a grand canyon-sized pit-where they go through another unbelieveable crisis even in midair-Buscemi suffers from a mind disease that causes the other crew members to restrain him, and more and more until Bruce actually has to stay behind and blow himself up to save the world.
Meanwhile, Grace watches as the very jittery, very dumb president tries several times to detonate the bomb prematurely. How did the filmmakers know that George W Bush would eventually wind up in office?
And it's sometime during al this that the script finally gives up the hope of credibility it never had. Which wire do I cut? The red one or the blue one? Yeah, they're talking about the bomb.
This isn't to defame Armageddon completely, because if you manage to suspend your disbelief long enough, there are some very real, genuine moments of suspence here. When AJ and the Russian astronaut are racing to the shuttle while the space station explodes around them, even the most hardened action movie nut will feel his heart speed up just a little. And in that last, emotional moment just before Willis blows himself up, his final goodbye to Tyler is so emotional it's almost sickening. If you have your girlfriend over to watch this, make sure she has a box of tissues.
And the scenes during training are ironically funny, watching all these oversized roughnecks get overtaken for the first time in their lives, watching them blackmail the people at NASA so they don't have to pay taxes again, watching Steve Buscemi be good old Steve Buscemi.
But Armageddon is simply not a good movie. It's an enjoyable movie. You may watch it on cable. You may rent it. You may even find it worth owning. But it isn't good in the traditional sense. If Michael Bay wants to be considered a serious action director along the lines of greats like Ridley Scott, John Woo or James Cameron-and given this and his Pearl Harbor follow-up, he does-he better learn to keep the camera in place for longer than two seconds and decide what kinds of movies he wants to make.
An odd balance between nauseating patriotism and not altogether intelligent humor, I'd say the redeeming quality of this movie is that Ben Affleck is not the worst thing about it. I'm no scientist but the logical inconsistencies in this movie are so profound even a simple-minded gal such as myself was distracted by the implausibility of two thirds of the entire movie. It's a popcorn movie with big explosions and enough one-liners and crowning American Pride moments to have the masses sit through … more