×

Armageddon

Bruce Willis saves the world but can't save "Armageddon." The second and, mercifully, last of the season's nuke-the-asteroid-or-bust pre-millennium spectaculars is so effects-obsessed and dramatically be-numbed as to make "Deep Impact" look like a humanistic masterpiece.

With:
Harry S. Stamper - Bruce Willis Dan Truman - Billy Bob Thornton Grace Stamper - Liv Tyler A.J. Frost - Ben Affleck Charles (Chick) Chapple - Will Patton Lev Andropov - Peter Stormare General Kimsey - Keith David Rockhound - Steve Buscemi Oscar Choi - Owen Wilson Col. William Sharp - William Fichtner Co-Pilot Jennifer Watts - Jessica Steen Ronald Quincy - Jason Isaacs Max Lennert - Ken Campbell Gruber - Grayson McCouch Freddy Noonan - Clark Brolly Colonel Davis - Marshall Teague Walter Clark - Chris Ellis Little Guy - Eddie Griffin Jayotis (Bear) Kurleenbear - Michael Clarke Duncan Karl - John Mahon Dottie - Grace Zabriskie Psychologist - Udo Kier Asian Tourist (Female) - Seiko Matsuda Hollis Vernon (Grap) Stamper - Lawrence Tierney Narrator - Charlton Heston

Bruce Willis saves the world but can’t save “Armageddon.” The second and, mercifully, last of the season’s nuke-the-asteroid-or-bust pre-millennium spectaculars is so effects-obsessed and dramatically be-numbed as to make “Deep Impact” look like a humanistic masterpiece. Despite its frequently incoherent staging and an editing style that amounts to a two and a half-hour sensory pummeling, $150 million sci-fi actioner nonetheless has the Willis juice, Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay bad-boy ingredients and Disney marketing muscle going for it to launch it into high commercial orbit.

Only question mark relates to the unexpected endurance “Deep Impact” has demonstrated, and whether the Paramount hit, the biggest 1998 release thus far, will indeed have a “Dante’s Peak”/”Volcano” dampening effect on want-see for this more elaborate and expensive, but even sillier and less engaging, production.

In theory a drama about the imminent end of the world if an asteroid hurtling toward Earth can’t be blown off course by some courageous astronauts, pic plays more like “Con Air Goes to Outer Space.” Making most of the decisions made by the “Deep Impact” team look good in retrospect, filmmakers here take delight in assembling a team of ex-cons, wise-asses, musclemen and jokers as the group that will try to save the world, but by their own example raise serious doubts as to whether humanity is worth saving.

It took five credited writers, and four more named in the press materials, to concoct this high-concept but otherwise staggeringly unimaginative tale, which parallels “Deep Impact” quite closely in its basic trajectory, if not in its details, tone and selection of characters. Earlier release, while hokey and directed like a careening train, at least took a thoughtful approach to the idea of impending global mortality; in “Armageddon,” doomsday is approached like a giant videogame.

Picking on a New York City only recently demolished cinematically by Godzilla (one of “Armageddon’s” few decent chuckles stems from a fierce little Manhattan dog attacking a plastic toy Godzilla), film begins with fireballs raining down on Gotham, disemboweling Grand Central Station, decapitating the Chrysler Building and generally wrecking the town. Amazingly, however, despite the fact that an asteroid the size of Texas is heading straight for the planet, the U.S. administration figures it can keep a lid on the news, at least until it figures out what to do about it.

Determining, as in “Deep Impact,” that the only thing to do is to implant a nuke or two in the giant hunk of rock to split it apart before it creates a big bang that will assuredly do to humanity what a similar collision once did to the dinosaurs, NASA, repped by exec director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), recruits the world’s top oil driller, Harry S. Stamper (Willis), for the job. A maverick, but responsive to the greater international need, Stamper agrees on condition that he can select his own team, and it’s here that the picture becomes irretrievably ludicrous: The “Dirty 14,” which will fly up on two space shuttles, consists mostly of miscreants with bad attitudes, and Stamper compounds the insult to professionalism and integrity with the request that, should the group survive the mission, they all be rewarded by not having to pay income taxes ever again.

Exposition, training and buildup to blastoff occupy film’s first half, which also concerns itself with an inane subplot of borderline puppy love between Stamper’s daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler), and his top-gun crew hand A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck), a relationship of which Dad for some reason disapproves. The more prominent of the other thesps are given one trait to define their characters: Will Patton has been a bad father but hopes to redeem himself, Ken Campbell is a big man with big fear, and Steve Buscemi likes busty hookers. None of them has any more depth than a character in a 30-second TV commercial.

After a preposterous little “intermission” in which the crew is liberated for some pre-launch raunch, pic be-comes an outer-space saga in which the shuttles dock with a Russian space station to refuel, slingshot around the moon, endure debris from the asteroid and finally land to lay a nuke deep inside the inhospitable black rock. Scripters (who, in addition to those credited, included Paul Attanasio, Ann Biderman, Scott Rosenberg and Robert Towne, per press notes) come up with plenty of obstacles for the intrepid drillers to overcome, but director Bay’s visual presentation is so frantic and chaotic that one often can’t tell which ship or characters are being shown, or where things are in relation to one another.

Much of the confusion, as well as the lack of dramatic rhythm or character development, results directly from Bay’s cutting style, which resembles a machine gun stuck in the firing position for 2 and a half hours. Perhaps someone will someday reveal how many separate shots make up “Armageddon,” but the count has to be one of the highest in Hollywood history; at a guess, there must be a cut every three seconds or so.

In order to enhance the film’s destructive possibilities, the mini-asteroids that serve as a taste of things to come are given unusually good aim, hitting only major cities — New York, Shanghai and, in a gratuitous late-in-the-game hit, Paris. In a lame attempt to globalize the drama, insert shots show thousands of natives praying in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and the Taj Mahal (not a religious site) in India, which somehow only increases the jingoistic, thank-you-America-for-saving-the-world message.

Film’s performance style consists of yelling above the ambient noise, which is usually considerable. Special effects are incessant and sometimes pretty groovy but, given the length of time each shot is on the screen, they’re usually here one second, gone the next. All tech credits are predictably gigantic.

Popular on Variety

Armageddon

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Jerry Bruckheimer production in association with Valhalla Motion Pictures. Produced by Bruckheimer, Gale Anne Hurd, Michael Bay. Executive producers, Jonathan Hensleigh, Jim Van Wyck, Chad Oman. Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay, Jonathan Hensleigh, J.J. Abrams, story by Robert Roy Pool, Hensleigh, adaptation by Tony Gilroy, Shane Salerno.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), John Schwartzman; editors, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, Glen Scantlebury; music, Trevor Rabin; production designer, Michael White; supervising art director, Georf Hubbard; art directors, Lawrence A. Hubbs, Bruton Jones; set designers, John P. Bruce, Daniel Jennings, Kevin Ishioka, George R. Lee, R. Gilbert Clayton, William Taliaferro, Mindi Toback, Patricia Klawonn, Steven M. Saylor, Gary R. Speckman, Domenic Silvestri; costume designers, Michael Kaplan, Magali Guidasci; sound (Dolby digital/SDDS/DTS), Keith A. Wester; visual effects supervisors, Pat McClung, Richard Hoover; visual effects, Dream Quest Images; associate producers, Barry Waldman, Pat Sandston, Kenny Bates; assistant director, K.C. Hodenfield; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Bates; second unit camera, Mauro Fiore; casting, Bonnie Timmermann. Reviewed at the Crest Theater, L.A., June 22, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 150 MIN.

With: Harry S. Stamper - Bruce Willis Dan Truman - Billy Bob Thornton Grace Stamper - Liv Tyler A.J. Frost - Ben Affleck Charles (Chick) Chapple - Will Patton Lev Andropov - Peter Stormare General Kimsey - Keith David Rockhound - Steve Buscemi Oscar Choi - Owen Wilson Col. William Sharp - William Fichtner Co-Pilot Jennifer Watts - Jessica Steen Ronald Quincy - Jason Isaacs Max Lennert - Ken Campbell Gruber - Grayson McCouch Freddy Noonan - Clark Brolly Colonel Davis - Marshall Teague Walter Clark - Chris Ellis Little Guy - Eddie Griffin Jayotis (Bear) Kurleenbear - Michael Clarke Duncan Karl - John Mahon Dottie - Grace Zabriskie Psychologist - Udo Kier Asian Tourist (Female) - Seiko Matsuda Hollis Vernon (Grap) Stamper - Lawrence Tierney Narrator - Charlton Heston

More Film

  • The Garden

    Bragason Brings ‘Woman at War’s’ Geirharosdottir to ‘The Garden’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Acclaimed actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, best known for “Woman at War,” is set to star in writer/director Ragnar Bragason’s dark comedy “The Garden.” Currently in post-production and to be pitched at Haugesund’s New Nordic Films over Aug. 20-23, “The Garden” is Bragason’s sixth feature and his first one since the 2013 Toronto entry “Metalhead.” “I did [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras to Receive San Sebastian Career Achievement Donostia Award

    Costa-Gavras, the Greek-born France-based director of some of the most famed movies of political cinema, from 1969’s “Z” to 1981’s “Missing,” will receive a career achievement Donostia Award at this September’s 67th San Sebastian Film Festival. The filmmaker will collect his prize on Sept. 21 at a ceremony held at San Sebastian’s Victoria Eugenia, where [...]

  • Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), Leonard (Bill

    China Box Office: New Animations No Match For 'Nezha' Domination

    Chinese animation “Nezha” continued its run as China’s biggest hit of the summer, maintaining its top spot at the box office even 25 days into its run with a weekend gross of $41.2 million. The tally made it this weekend’s fourth highest grossing film worldwide. Meanwhile, two other new animated titles performed unremarkably. The flop of [...]

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content