If the 80s belonged to Joel Silver (“Commando”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Die Hard”), the 90s are Bruckheimer’s ballpark. With his now deceased partner Don Simpson, the successful producer released countless international smash hits. It’s back in the mid-80s that Bruckheimer found what would become his winning recipe, with 1986’s “Top Gun”. You get a hotshot young director with a flashy, MTV style (Tony Scott), a hot star (Tom Cruise), teamed up with hip future stars (Val Kilmer, Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards), a hit song (“Take My Breath Away”) and of course, lots of explosions and thrills. Some ten years later, the same thing is going on with a movie like Simon West’s “Con Air” (Nic Cage/Steve Buscemi + John Malkhovich + Ving Rhames + Danny Trejo + John Cusack…/Oscar-nominated tune “How Do I Live?”). And then there’s Armageddon. The recipe is still the same, but Bruckheimer is aiming even higher, with 140 M$ of budget to support this Bruce Willis disaster epic which also stars Steve Buscemi, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. Even the song is bigger, since it’s performed by the superband Aerosmith. Well, now that’s it’s proven that Bruckheimer is the King of the Blockbuster, the question is: does his latest gamble pay off? Well, this ain’t his best production, but it’s pretty good as far as mindless entertainment goes.
Bruce Willis stars as Harry, a macho, All-American Joe who happens to lead the best oil drilling team in the world. He doesn’t have to worry about much, if not for his daughter Grace messing with one of his men, A.J. Things change drastically when the NASA comes to him to, hear this, save the world from total destruction! The thing is that every scientist seems to be incompetent, and the best plan they could think of to stop an asteroid the size of Texas heading for Earth is to nuke it from the inside. To do so, they need Harry and his team to land on the big chunk of rock, and drill a hole deep enough so a nuclear device can be placed in its center. Yes, this is a plot that might remind of “Deep Impact”, but don’t be mistaken. Those films are as different in tone as “Beaches” and “Rambo”! “Deep Impact” is a tedious, boring melodrama in which chicks and sensible guys stand around, waiting to die. But in “Armageddon”, what you get is a crew of badass studs who joke around while kicking an asteroid’s ass! And what a crew! Bruce Willis has proven himself as a great action star with movies like the “Die hard” trilogy, but he also gained some respect by working with Luc Besson, Terry Gilliam and Quentin Tarantino. Here, he’s once again funny and heroic, but surprisingly, he doesn’t hold all the attention. This film is more of an ensemble piece, so his men also have important roles. Ben Affleck plays A.J., which seems to be Jerry Bruckheimer’s attempt to expand the movie’s appeal to girls. This could have been real lame, but Affleck and Liv Tyler (who plays Willis’ daughter) are enjoyable, so you almost forgive the phoniness of their embarassing scenes.
You action fans don’t worry though. The film has a cast of goons that hasn’t much to envy to those of “Predator” or “Con Air”. Most of them aren’t known yet, but they could be heading for a great career of supporting parts in action movies. There’s a huge black dude (Michael Clarke Duncan), a cowboy (Owen Wilson), a fat guy with tattoos… And then there’s Steve Buscemi as Rockhound, a horny, funny looking guy. I’m telling you, he steals absolutely every scene he’s in, thanks to his unique delivery and the hilarious lines the writer has him saying. There’s also Billy Bob Thornton in the thankless role of the guy at NASA who yells in a microphone. Michael Bay directed the whole thing, and it must have been a huge challenge. The film is filled with complex special FX and action sequences. Bay, who also helmed “The Rock”, has to be admired for his technical achievement. His film is more impressive than most I can think of in the FX department. Bay still doesn’t really have a style, but he’s as good as any other at crafting MTV-style set pieces pumped by a faux-Wagnerian score. His latest film is exciting for most of its length. If there is one thing to criticize, it’s that there is too much ” space scenes”. Scenes in which spaceships spin out of control, smash or explode never turned me on, and here they’re particularly repetitive, unexciting, and overlong.
“Armageddon” puts to shame any disaster movie in recent memory, from “Independence Day” to “Godzilla”. It’s still a noisy and dumb flick, but as far as summer popcorn movies go, who cares? I went to see the film at the big midnight premiere in Montreal, complete with smashed up cars and fake asteroids in front of the theater, and it was a really fun experience. People were laughing and clapping through the whole film, and that’s where it’s at. Some guy besides me complained that this was the stupidest movie he’d ever seen, but he’s missing the point. Of course this is messy, retarded and shallow, campy and over-the-top: it’s a Hollywood summer blockbuster! It’s not a great film, but I felt the ride was worth the 8,50$ I coughed to see it.