The Core
starring Hilary Swank and Stanley Tucci
2 1/2 stars

The Core is an underground burrowing adventure, sort of like Armageddon in reverse. Rather than flying out into space to set a bomb to blow up an asteroid, The Core's plucky group of characters have to laser-dig their way into the Earth in order to get the core spinning again. Why do we care if the Earth's core is spinning or not? Well, because without a spinning core, Earth wouldn't have a magnetic field, and without a magnetic field, birds can't remain sane, San Francisco can't remain unmicrowaved to death, and Rome can't go another day without being blown to smithereens by crazy lightning. 

Yep, The Core is filled with nifty little science facts like those. That's really the best thing about the movie, its unselfconscious science-museum enthusiasm for geology tidbits and the internal structure of the Earth. The main character, a geologist played by Aaron Eckhart, is the kind of guy who takes time to explain electromagnetism or fries an apricot with an aerosol blowtorch in order to illustrate what's going to happen to the Earth, just like in science class. The Core is also one of those rare sci-fi movies in which the characters are actually scientists, and over-the-top as it is, The Core's disaster scenario is actually kind of plausible. 

Not too plausible, of course, and an early set piece involving an emergency shuttle landing in the L.A. river sets the film's tone of silly good humor. As one character puts it, "Hang on -- this isn't going to be subtle!" 

But as entertainment, The Core mostly comes across as Armageddon Lite -- cheaper special effects, lamer music, less recognizable stars, limper thrills. The actors are game enough, and there are some good ones in there -- Hilary Swank, Tcheky Karyo, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci -- but none of them exactly burst with star power, and the movie doesn't really have much interest in them as characters anyway. 

It's hard to watch The Core without making the comparison to Armageddon, especially since The Core matches Armageddon's structure --omeny disasters, identification of the problem, creation of a plan, forming of a team, and launching of the mission -- almost beat for beat. And as we hit each beat, The Core comes off as kinda boring, and I don't mean into the Earth. Remember the scene in Armageddon where the oil rig guys present a list of demands in exchange for saving the Earth? Well, there's a scene like it in The Core, shorter and less charming. Remember the stuff where the team trains and prepares? Again, there's a lamer version in the Core.

And then, when it comes to actual saving-the-Earth action, drilling through miles of lava just isn't as cool as flying through space. They do manage to solve the problem of how to show a ship traveling through an opaque medium like lava (by simply pretending lava is transparent), but once you get past the giant diamonds and geodes, there's just not that much going on deep inside the Earth. No mole men, no enemies, just lots of differently colored rocks.

And at the end of the day, none of it really stands for anything. Say what you like about Armageddon, but nobody can deny that it was fully committed to wringing every last drop of manipulative emotion out of its dreamy patriotic "test of humanity" themes, cranking the emotions and conflicts up to 11 in every scene. Here, there are no themes or prevailing metaphors; The Core they seek is nothing more than a giant ball of iron, so the movie comes off as just a show reel for unusual deep-Earth geological formations. It's mildly diverting, but ultimately forgettable.