Bruce Willis, Armageddon

In “Armageddon,” this month?s insolently bombastic will-an-asteroid collide-with-Earth thriller, American military honchos scramble to find someone to save our precious planet, and the best they can come up with is a driller. A deep-core oil driller named Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis). His mission? To lead his trusty crew into space, land on the offending rock, and drill 800 feet into the surface, so that he can implant a nuclear weapon and blow the mother into two pieces, which will then shoot past the earth. Watching “Armageddon,” I got the distinct feeling that the director, Michael Bay, wanted to drill the audience. Bay makes films like a man with a live tiger shark caught in his underwear. The camera never stops moving, and the images are edited with such nervous stroboscopic intensity that they seem to be knocking into each other like bumper cars. (I?ve seen trailers that were more elegantly directed.) Bay, whose previous action-hit cataclysms were “Bad Boys” and “The Rock,” doesn?t stage scenes, exactly?he stages moments. You never quite know where you are within a given setting, but then, at Armageddon, a bogus rah-rah spectacle, all that?s supposed to matter is that you?re in the moment. If you?re not swept away by the rush, that?s your problem, bud.

In a sense, it?s impossible to criticize a movie like “Armageddon,” since the picture?s very shortcomings are the essence of its ?drama.? Training for their mission, the men in Willis? misfit-renegade team are presented as a slob parody of “The Right Stuff,” and so it hardly matters that the characters are third-generation Xeroxes of clichés from a year or two ago. That?s the whole point; audiences laugh in knowing recognition of the simplemindedness they?re being asked to swallow.

After the glumly inert, TV-movieish theatrics of “Deep Impact,” which made the end of life as we know it seem oddly soothing (at least, compared with the prospect of having to spend another 15 minutes contemplating Téa Leoni?s news-anchor career woes), “Armageddon” puts its kick-ass jollies front and center. The movie opens with the destruction of Manhattan by meteor shower, and, midway through, Paris gets wiped out as well. Naturally, no one blinks an eye. (The NASA officials seem convinced that the crisis has remained top secret even after New York City is smashed to rubble.) The asteroid itself is an impressive creation, all fairy-tale obsidian spikes and crevices. But once Harry and his crew land, the film gets weighed down by its own ponderous logistics. In “Armageddon,” the world never feels truly at risk, but the movie has an apocalyptic thrust all the same. It would love to dance on the grave of cinema as we know it.

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