HOLLYWOOD — “Pearl Harbor” has launched a new Word War.
That boom heard across the country Friday was no invasion — that was America’s critical community coming up with as many ways as possible to say the word “bomb” in reviews of Disney’s “Pearl Harbor.”
The Wall Street Journal’s headline screamed “Snore-a! Snore-a! Snore-a!” playing off the title of a far more explosive WWII action pic. “Pearl Harbor,” the Journal’s Joe Morgenstern decried in his opening sentence, “is a blockheaded, hollow-hearted industrial enterprise that rises to its subject’s solemn grandeur only once.”
After a few lines of faint praise, he chastised the pic for its “lame comedy, dubious history, fumbling drama and a love story so inept as to make a pacifist long for war.”
Morgenstern is not alone in taking aim at the $140 million epic. In Variety‘s Crix’ Picks, the weekly roundup of reviews from Gotham, Chicago, L.A. and D.C., “Pearl Harbor” was gonged with negative blurbs from 25 reviewers, 17 were mixed, and a mere six gave it a thumbs up. Many a critic summoned some kind words for the 30-minute combat sequence, but beyond that they opened the battle hatch and fired away.
“There is not a shred of conviction or chemistry in the love triangle,” wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Although you may walk out quoting lines of dialogue, it will not be because you admire them,” he added.
“When you assume battle stations for ‘Pearl Harbor,’ make sure you sit near the aisle. You’ve got three hours to withstand and only about half of it is war. This is definitely a two-bathroom visit movie,” said Washington Post critic Desson Howe, who also came up with a “Tora! Tora! Tora!” pun: “Perhaps they should have called this ‘Bore-a, Bore-a, Bore-a.’ ”
A less derisive A.O. Scott commented in the New York Times that “the movie works best as a bang-and-boom action picture, a loud symphony of bombardment and explosion juiced up with frantic editing and shiny computer-generated imagery. … You emerge from ‘Pearl Harbor’ numbed and dazzled, but not especially moved or enlightened. It is not a terrible movie, but rather a defiantly, extravagantly average one.”
New York Daily News critic Jami Bernard delivered a bombs away critique: ” ‘Pearl Harbor’ is a bomb, make no mistake. But the movie is such a noisy, persistent bomb that it is guaranteed to draw a crowd.”
The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick dodged similes, metaphors and puns, simply stating that “the bulk of the three-hour epic is third-rate schmaltz that pays only lip service to history.”
In Hollywood, Disney found a voice of dissent, the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Thomas. “Pearl Harbor,” he wrote, has “an engaging love story and a remarkable evocation of a time when Americans virtually overnight pulled together.” Noting that “the film is sustained by a grand theme: innocence lost,” Thomas praised the pic for being “honest in its heart-tugging” and Ben Affleck, whose perf is “a confirmation of his stardom.”
As if attacks on the film itself weren’t enough, the Associated Press’ David Germain even had complaints about the credits, which list so many names you don’t know who you might find on the screen. “Hunting for your name in the 10-plus minutes of end credits would be far more productive than watching the nearly three hours of dreck that precedes them,” he wrote.
At one point in the pic, a Japanese admiral says, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.” Little did Disney know that those napping were critics.