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Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

The Core

The great poet Norah Jones, who also sings her poems, said that when the world goes out, it will be not with a bang but with a breathy whisper. And that's sort of how it happens in The Core.

It all begins when a bunch of people unexpectedly drop dead in the middle of the day. Then a flock of pigeons in London's Ginger Spice Square goes completely nuts, attacking people. Then China inexplicably falls 100 feet straight down. Then Pez dispensers all over the world suddenly become sentient and, frankly, a little peeved with the heads that have been chosen for them. Then a black man casts a vote in Florida without interference. Woodrow Wilson's ghost suddenly appears and says that he's rethinking his whole "14 points of light," or whatever they were. A sad-eyed puppeteer begins to feel that Ollie is just a third wheel to Kukla and Fran.

A mystery?

Not to brilliant geomologist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, Ph.D.). Josh puts 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 together and realizes either that the earth's core has stopped spinning or that God has gone on a wicked bender. It turns out that God actually had been "having some issues," though these played out on a solar system far from our own, and that the real problem was actually the core thing.

It turns out that the earth is actually shaped sort of like a ball, and that there are different layers, which Josh helpfully explains by using a peach, available at the fruit table common to most Pentagon briefing rooms. The pit of the peach is the "core," which isn't hard like a peach pit, but is actually sort of liquidy with a big iron ball at the middle. If it doesn't spin, the earth will catch fire, melt, and then explode. Because the military men in the room appear not to understand, Josh helpfully demonstrates the outcome by setting the peach on fire.

I don't know about you -- actually, I thought I did, but my doctor said that you probably are not a beautiful, huge-breasted blonde woman who wants to have sex with me and will discover me through my reviews on the web -- but I love science fiction action movies. They're exciting, but they also teach you something about how science works.

Josh quickly assembles a team to fix the problem. They include Beck Childs (Hilary Swank), a brave woman who dressed as a man, became a space shuttle pilot, and then landed it on top of Dodger Stadium because of a zany navigational mishap. There's Professor Viande Morte (Tchecky Karyo), Josh's surprising noble French friend. And then there's Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tushy), who is chosen because he is evil, vain, and prone to panic attacks. For comedy relief, they hire DJ Qualls (of Road Trip) to play a puckish computer hacker who can destroy the entire world in a second but chooses to live in a 2nd-floor walkup.

To find and build a machine that can get them to the center of the earth, they think of holding a National Science Foundation grant contest, but figured that the money would, as usual, probably just go to a cantankerous black independent scientist living in Utah anyway, so they just skip the whole competition thing and just go straight to the winner. Dr. Ed Brazleton (Delroy Lindo) has designed the world's longest and most powerful drill ship. His prototype, the U.S.S. John Holmes, works well but then burns itself out, so he redesigns a stubbier, more user-friendly version, the U.S.S. Ron Jeremy, which might have the stamina to make it all the way through the earth and back.

The US government tries to get the Ron Jeremy to power up its Overthruster and go immediately to the center of the earth, but France and Germany stall for roughly half of the movie, demanding more time for UN core inspectors. They finally learn their lesson, though, when an electromagnetic solar storm destroys Rome, which is in one of the two countries.

This was the most astonishing moment in the film. Because the filmmakers wisely spent 95% of the film's budget to hire Christopher Young to compose the score (after all, the man behind the music of The Country Bears doesn't come cheap), they had to cut corners in other areas, including direction, screenplay, stars, and, most notably, special effects. But, as the saying goes, sometimes if you don't spend much money on special effects, you end up with even more special effects.

No Lincoln Log was left unscorched in this brilliant sequence, perhaps the most terrifying and convincing view of catastrophe since the controversial blast scene in A Very Brady Apocalypse. But besides the model of the Coliseum, built from Tinker Toys and a Lite-Brite set, the filmmakers wisely use the scenes from the computer game Myst to recreate other Roman landmarks like the Parthenon, the Great Wall, and, I think, 10 Downing Street. They are demolished by a child's fist wrapped in aluminum foil, which looks amazingly like lightning.

Anyway, the main characters have to go to the center of the earth, where the only thing that is certain is that some of the people probably won't make it back, and it's almost as certain which ones those will be. They have to use their noggins to deal with the fact that the earth's core is very different from the way they'd "wargamed" it, and it actually puts up stiffer martyrdom resistance than had initially been expected. But using good old-fashioned American overwhelming destructive power, as well as the thrustive force and amazing length of the USS Ron Jeremy, they fashion a scheme to destroy the core in order to save it.

Recently I was criticized for giving away the surprise ending of The Hours, when I pointed out that Meryl Streep turned out to be Virginia Woolf, who had lived to the age of 130. I've apologized already, but I've learned a lesson, so I will point out here that the following might be a spoiler.

OK? Spoiler Alert.

But I have to mention how brilliant the ending is. So the USS Ron Jeremy is shooting through the earth to escape a massive nuclear blast, and the steering is really tricky, and very exciting, and then suddenly we get a subtitle -- "16 hours later" -- and the ship pops out of a volcano, with the sound effect of a young woman moaning with pleasure. That's how you know a really well-structured film. Other movies would have made you sit through a terrifying 16-hour chase to see how the heroes hold up under the enormous pressure of blasting their way through a planet that is pretty much exploding. But with remarkable and unexpected panache, the makers of The Core know that a simple subtitle can save all of us a lot of trouble.

Anyway, this is a revolutionary action film in pretty much every way, from its use of a Gnip-Gnop game in the special effects, to its frighteningly accurate understanding of science, to its recognition that a lot of action scenes are pretty much unnecessary, when you have the magic of narration and subtitles.

I predict that next March, Oscar will have a new name: Ron Jeremy. Oh, meaning that The Core is going to win many Oscars.

On a scale of four or five stars, I give The Core four-and-a-half stars.


Earlier Positive Movie Reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny