Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Meteor or Just Cheesier?

By Noah Masterson

JULY 6, 1998:  Sometimes it's best to root for the bad guy in movies--particularly when the bad guy is a force of nature like meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes, giant lizards or space aliens. Armageddon, the latest in a long string of disaster flicks, is a fun film if you cheer for the bad guy, in this case, meteor showers that ravage planet earth. Of course, mankind triumphs in the end (that's not spoiling anything; did you really think a feel-good summer movie would end in complete annihilation of the human race?), but the meteors manage to send to Jesus a couple hundred thousand men, women and children. Yay for meteors!

Part of the reason to cheer for the meteors in Armageddon is that they have more personality than many of the human characters. They are cuddly, lovable rocks that tumble gracefully through space, drawn to Earth like moths to flame. Or maybe it's the other way around. Then there's the big Texas-sized rock that threatens to turn our planet into a giant ashtray. That's the biggest hero of all.

Naturally, the earthlings--especially the American earthlings who, as we all know, are the smartest, toughest and coolest earthlings--fight back. After a series of plans to destroy the big rock is rejected, one proposed by "pretty much the smartest guy in the world" is given the green light. His plan is to land some astronauts on the rock, drill a big hole, drop some nukes inside and fly away. But no mere NASA geniuses can complete this feat--this job requires the expertise of Bruce Willis and his ragtag fleet of oil drilling roughnecks. (This was gonna be my submission to the Alibi's "High Concept Film Contest," but then they made a real movie out of it.)

After a cursory introduction to each of Willis' crew, during which we learn nothing except that Steve Buscemi is horny, the cool guy from Bottle Rocket (Owen Wilson) is funny and that Ben Affleck is screwing Liv Tyler, the non-astronauts are jettisoned into space to save mankind. After that, we are subjected to two hours of shouting and stuff blowing up, some of which is incomprehensible but all of which looks pretty neat.

Like producer Jerry Bruckheimer's last two summer outings, The Rock and Con Air, action and special effects receive more attention than character and plot in Armageddon. The action in Armageddon, in fact, is so over-the-top that it becomes tedious after a while. Most people don't give a rat's ass about this, as evidenced by the millions of dollars these movies make. But as we near the millennium and technology continues to revolutionize the way movies are made, flawless special effects are--and should be--taken for granted in big-budget Hollywood movies.

What saves this movie from being a complete wash are some occasional clever moments and fine performances all around. Billy Bob Thornton is a standout as the clear-headed NASA director, and Bruce Willis' speech at the end is strangely moving--despite all the ridiculous flag-waving patriotism that follows. Even Liv Tyler turns in a decent performance, though her character does little more than stare longingly at the sky. Ultimately, though, this movie will divide people into two camps. If you're the sort that can still be blinded into thinking you're watching a good movie by astonishing special effects and cliff-hanging action, Armageddon does the trick. But if you care--at all--about characters with depth and stories with meaning, you'd probably prefer death by meteor to this film.

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