' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Core

Friday, February 03, 2023

Some Drivel On...The Core

It was recently reported that the spin of the Earth’s core is slowing down. Not to worry, the scientists told us, this isn’t the beginning of the end of the world (that’s exactly what they’d want us to think), so don’t sweat it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope Hollywood’s finest have not already greenlit at least a pair of slow core disaster movies. Then again, Hollywood already saw this coming exactly twenty years ago in the form of Jon Amiel’s “The Core,” in which the Earth’s core has not simply slowed but stopped spinning altogether, necessitating a bold kickstarting of our beautiful blue marble from the inside. The cause of this cessation is eventually tied back to government evildoing, preparing a weapon of such mass destruction that it idiotically takes our own inner core out, though Amiel and his screenwriters Cooper Layne and John Rogers have no interest in pulling that thread of paranoia too hard. What emerges, then, is something like a 50s B movie without the political undertones, Danny Boyle’s brilliant “Sunshine” without the metaphysical and philosophical overtones, all crossed with a 1970s Irwin Allen special. Fun! It wants to have some fun, anyway, and does, mostly. It has its moments, we’ll say, more than last year’s “Moonfall,” at least, a movie less about humankind’s can-do spirit than Hollywood’s can-do attempts to make possible global catastrophe go down easy.

Speaking of “Moonfall,” that movie brought the Space Shuttle Endeavour out of retirement, but “The Core” takes us back to when it was in service, hinting at the movie’s incoming cataclysm with an electromagnetic disturbance that causes the space shuttle to exit orbit way off course as the movie opens and resort to an emergency landing, at the behest of cool-under-pressure co-pilot Beck Childs (Hilary Swank), in the Los Angeles River. It’s an A+ curtain raiser, everything I want from my middling disaster movies, and the image of the shuttle zooming over a Los Angeles Dodgers game put me in the mind of “The Naked Gun” in so much as it reminded me how so often the best action set pieces are as amusing as they are suspenseful. (“Top Gun: Maverick” knew this too.) The scientist who unearths the inner core problems is Josh Keyes, played by Aaron Eckhart and as such capturing for a 2023 viewer that moment way back when Eckhart was shooting his shot for leading man status, evincing a geophysicist as a semi-heartthrob with tousled bed hair and a loose-fitting sweater and collared shirt that took me back in time as much as an operational space shuttle program. He’s sort of playing a less-nerdy version of the Leo role in “Don’t Look Up,” though the government (represented by a professionally taciturn Richard Jenkins) is more inclined to listen even if it’s cooking up a dreaded Plan B in concert with Dr. Conrad Zimsky played by Stanley Tucci in a delightful performance to be discussed more in a moment.

Plan A is restarting Earth’s core via nuclear weapons (what else?) by tunneling to it with a drilling array attached to a vessel constructed from so-called Unobtainium – like a Prog Rock version of “Black Panther’s”  Vibranium, or something – devised by Dr. Ed “Braz” Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo), though I confess I was not quite clear on the nature of Dr. Brazzelton’s field. Maverick Propensities? Not that it matters. The science is, like, whatever, man. Emory University physicist Sidney Perkowitz decreed “The Core” as “get(ting) more science wrong than almost any film I know,” which is essentially all you need to recommend it. As disaster movies go, “The Core’s” translations of scientific argle-bargle are handled with an entertaining (lack of) wit, like Tucci’s devilishly delivered, let’s-boil-all-this-down-to-one-line “The core of the Earth has stopped spinning” and, best of all, Dr. Keyes demonstrating how the core crapping out will deflate the planet’s necessary electromagnetic shield and fry it by incinerating a peach, an LOL moment the esteemed Roger Ebert so definitively described I will let him take over: “To watch Keyes and the generals contemplate that burnt peach,” Ebert wrote, “is to witness a scene that cries out from its very vitals to be cut from the movie and made into ukulele picks.”

Ebert also noted that it was “only by slapping myself alongside the head and drinking black coffee that I can restrain myself from recommending ‘The Core.’” We here at Cinema Romantico, of course, are not really in the business of recommendations, just working things through for ourselves. And so I will refrain from saying, yes, you should watch The Core on HBO Max immediately, or, no, you should not, and simply note that while “The Core” starts strong, the deeper it tunnels into the earth and the more outlandish it ostensibly becomes, the more paint by numbers it gets, tacking too far away from the silly for something sentimental, assuming the odd seriousness of Swank’s performance rather than Lindo’s quietly madcap emotional possessiveness of his character’s creations. It’s Tucci, though, who rescues “The Core” as it goes off course despite his character’s inevitable heroic turnabout, playing a celebrity scientist with more satiric edge than Mark Rylance’s more showily off-kilter turn in the aforementioned “Don’t Look Up.” Tucci’s performative nodding while Eckhart’s character briefs military officials, desperate to convey to everyone that he already knows everything be explained because no one is smarter than him, is as funny as the burnt peach, and his entire air combines with the character’s self-centered vaingloriousness to comically bring to life one of those dudes so obsessed with his legacy it’s all he can think about even if there won’t be anyone left on earth to remember it.

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