Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for violence, bloodshed
Run Time: 3 hours, 3 minutes
Saturday night tickets to the Cineplex: $18.00. Diet Cokes, large popcorn and Red Vines: $12.75. An evening of babysitting: $40. Three hours of hunky Josh Hartnett in and out of uniform: Priceless.
The charms of rookie flyboy Danny Walker (Hartnett) aside, the summer’s most high-profile blockbuster is an overly long and trite re-telling of America’s reluctant entry into World War II.
With maximum corn and melodrama, action entrepreneur Michael Bay directs a traditional yarn of two best friends, rookie fighter pilots who amuse themselves by performing nonstop air drills and cocky air stunts at an unnamed Army base. Not content with the low-key action stateside, hothead flying ace Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) volunteers for a stint with the RAF in Britain. Before shipping out, Rafe meets and falls in love with comely Army nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale), a level-headed beauty who does her hospital whites great feminine justice. Rafe is shot down while battling the Germans, and presumed dead. Evelyn and Danny, re-assigned to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, mourn for a few months, then succumb to their mutual attraction with a starry-eyed spin in the parachute bin.
Naturally all hell breaks loose when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Over three thousand lives are lost, throwing relationships and idyllic military life into a disorderly chaos. With teeming patriotic duty, Danny and Rafe (back from the dead) volunteer for what amounts to a suicide mission – the deadly, top-secret counterattack of Tokyo.
Call it WWII Lite. The story remains true to the facts of the startling attack, but the human drama is surprisingly dreary. Not a whiff of originality or emotional spark. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, best friend meets and beds girl, etc, lending the capsule love triangle as much passion as a trio of cardboard cutouts. Randall Wallace’s (“Braveheart”) script is dreadfully clichéd, chock full of such melodramatic quips as “… not anxious to die, sir, just anxious to matter” and “war – losers die and there aren’t any winners”. Ugh. Speaking of losers, the Japanese get the short end of the stick by suffering the stigma of the under-developed “enemy”, and muttering asinine, semi-apologetic metaphors.
Of course it’s all about The Look. Raise the flag high in celebration of the golden glow of Americana, a jingoistic aura that bathes every face, costume, and stick of furniture in a sentimental yellow light. The feel isn’t authentic, just gloriously re-created. Occasional indie touches – blurred photography (to mask the bloody fallout of war) and edited-in black and white footage - are an ill fit with the blockbuster genre. Not that it matters when Pearl Harbor is finally attacked, some eighty minutes into the film. “Top Gun” meets “Star Wars” in a rousing series of air assaults that have terror written all over them. Impressive, even from my jaded perspective. (Less impressive was my dismay when a surreptitious watch-check at the two-hour mark signaled sixty more minutes to go). Fortunately, the last hour is effectively tense, if not exactly gritty.
Affleck, too aware of his
good looks to work the humble angle, is wasted. Beckinsale gives her all as a perky, patriotic gal torn between
two lovers. Alec Baldwin as an arrogant
flight instructor, Jon Voight unrecognizable as President Roosevelt, and the
ever-honorable Japanese commanders are stuck with the bulk of the dumb
dialogue. Hartnett is magnificent –
clothed or not, mouth open or shut – worth a whole star of this review by turning
summer’s biggest extravaganza into a delicious visual feast.