Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Michael Bay

REVIEWED: 07-13-98

There's no use getting mad at something as lumpy and half-witted as Armageddon; you might as well kick some decrepit old mongrel for fouling a rug. The summer's second comet opera--and as such, destined to play Avis to Deep Impact's Hertz--Armageddon fires Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and a crew of roughnecks only a marketing consultant could love into outer space, where they must land on an oncoming asteroid, drill to its core, nuke it to Add-a-Beads, and return home safely, all in a few hours' time.

Anybody with half a brain is already thinking, "Yeah, right"--but anybody with half a brain is the enemy, as far as Armageddon is concerned. The overseas market is too lucrative for the movie to include any villainous far'ners, so eggheads must suffice, from arrogant astronauts to clueless physicists. (Willis' team has a couple of brilliant scientists, but there are mitigating factors--one's a cowboy, the other dates strippers.) Besides, thinking fellers might ask too many questions of the bonehead script--for instance, how the asteroid remains a global secret after Manhattan gets bombarded by basketball-sized fireballs.

The director, Michael Bay, who made the equally numbing The Rock, has been hailed for his hyperactive editing style--essentially, count to one and cut. "He recycles Hollywood clichs with such velocity and slickness they almost seem newly minted," gushed Newsweek, and indeed his modus operandi is to shovel so many overused visual tropes at you--men outrunning fireballs, low-angle slow-motion pans, large objects crashing into the lens--so quickly that your eyes feel assaulted. (I counted 28 cuts in a single minute; with over 144 minutes that approach near-cubist abstraction, that's more than 4,000 edits.) But his action scenes are an incoherent blur, further discombobulated by a camera that jiggles like a motorist who missed the last rest stop. And each shot is overlaid with a sickly shampoo-commercial gloss that triggers a sense, somewhere in the back of your aching head, that somebody is desperately trying to sell you something, be it an emotion, a piece of product, or the illusion of a good time.

As entertainment, Armageddon is obnoxious and wearisome, but as an exercise in commercial ass-covering, it's a wonder to behold. The intrusive, self-advertising soundtrack, which usurps Curtis Mayfield and Aerosmith classics for no good reason, does everything but drive you to Wal-Mart and pitch itself into your cart. And the movie is so afraid to turn away a single viewer that it yanks its characters every which way. One minute Willis is whacking golfballs into a boatload of environmentalists; the next he's saying he contributed to their cause. Even fishhuggers buy tickets.

Armageddon isn't so much a movie as an across-the-board demographic assault--the end of the world marketed to every biped with a wallet. As such, it's tempting to gloat at the movie's underwhelming box-office figures, which fell nearly a third short of the $75 million Disney was projecting over the Fourth of July holiday. But that would be stoking the same overpuffed media machinery that says opening grosses are the measure of a movie--or that earns the likes of Armageddon three pages of advance attention in Newsweek. (See how long it takes Newsweek to say the movie fell victim to overhype.)

One final note. The night I saw Armageddon at the Hollywood 27, the theater lights blinked on and off, and the deafening digital sound--the reason the man behind me drove all the way from Murfreesboro--dropped out every few seconds for nearly 20 minutes. If spectacle and body-rocking blasts are all a movie has to offer people for their $6.75, the understaffed Regal megaplex should at least fulfill that part of the bargain. (To their credit, the staff offered some refund passes.) Still, the absence of sound only pointed up the absence of anything worth watching.

--Jim Ridley

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Bad Boys
The Rock

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