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Film has lots of flash but offers far too little substance



Published: Thu, May 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The main characters of 'Pearl Harbor' are too one-dimensional to give soul to the film's love triangle.

By MILAN PAURICH

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

Millions of dollars worth of explosives fall from the sky in "Pearl Harbor." Unfortunately, none of them lands on the right people: director Michael Bay, screenwriter William Wallace or producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

"Armageddon" director Bay's cynical bid for James Cameron-like critical respectability (and Cameron's "Titanic"-size grosses) reconfigures the 1941 Japanese bombing of the Pacific fleet into a chick flick with bombs.

Because macho man Bay, whose other credits include such testosterone-fests as "The Rock" and "Bad Boys," is obviously more comfortable with things that go kaboom than with girl stuff, it's not surprising that the special-effects-heavy action sequences play more effectively than the romantic interludes. The shocking thing is that the lovey-dovey stuff doesn't play at all.

Imagine "Titanic" if the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet characters had been stripped of their souls and written as one-dimensional ciphers, and you'll have some idea of what went wrong here. The love triangle in "Harbor" is so utterly lacking in emotional weight and substance that it barely registers. And because Bay and "Braveheart" scripter Wallace obviously intend it to be the heart and soul of their movie, the malnourished characterizations are a crushing blow from which the film never recovers.

Main characters: Flyboy protagonists Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are boyhood friends -- we're introduced to them in a 1923 Tennessee prologue that feels like warmed-over Spielberg -- who have the misfortune of falling in love with the same woman (volunteer nurse Evelyn, colorlessly played by Brit Kate Beckinsale) while fighting in World War II.

When Rafe's plane goes down, it's Danny's unfortunate duty to give Evelyn the bad news. Soon, the two of them are making whoopee in an airfield hangar. But as it turns out, Rafe's not really dead after all. Before the sluggish romantic complications can work themselves out, Dec. 7, 1941, intrudes and the movie finally kicks into gear.

The 40-minute sequence devoted to the assault is suitably impressive (for $140 million, it had better be), the best pyrotechnics money can buy and Hollywood can manufacture. But because Bay's filmmaking skills have never really evolved beyond noisily blowing things up, the rest of the movie -- two hours plus -- just hangs there, flapping in the breeze.

In a first-rate supporting cast including Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore and Alec Baldwin, only Cuba Gooding Jr. makes much of an impression, although he seems to be reprising his "Men of Honor" Navy hero role.

Although "Pearl Harbor" probably won't live in infamy, it should make back its exorbitant production costs, thanks to Disney's relentless hype machine, which insinuates that you're un-American if you don't see their movie. But I doubt that it will linger long in moviegoers' hearts or memories.




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