I love disaster movies. There's something about them that makes me smile, even though I gather I'm supposed to be a bit shaken by the goings-on. However, the formula is just such a joyously simple and preposterous thing that it's hard not to grin; take an impending threat, make complex plan, send a ragtag group of experts and adventurers off to execute said plan, plan goes awry, ragtag group uses sheer force of will and ingenuity, world is safe. You have to love the optimism in these films. I mean, in real life, were an asteroid the size of Texas to head our way, our governments would flee into their shelters, while we'd all simply run around and smash things.
In The Core, the threat comes in the form of the Earth's..err..core, which has curiously stopped spinning. You see, when that happens, sub-sonic waves wreak all sorts of havoc, the planet's magnetic field is destablised, and, essentially, the sun becomes a huge microwave oven, and the Earth the convenience store burrito within. It's an all around bad scene. When the first signs of impending doom manifest themselves in a mass execution of pacemaker wearers in a small section of Boston, followed by a Hitchcockian pigeon massacre in Trafalgar Square, Dr. Joshua Keyes (Eckhart) puts two and two together and only he recognises what's at the...err..core...of these incidents. Keyes presents his research to world reknowned scientist Conrad Zimsky (Tucci) who takes Keyes to his friends in Washington, whereupon a very impressive scientific display involving a lighter and a peach on a stick persuades the powers that be that the Earth's core has ceased moving and that the planet is doomed. With the funding of the governments of the world, the doctors enlist the help of Brazzelton (Lindo), a former associate of Zimsky's, whose been working in exile on a ship capable of drilling through the Earth using lasers of some sort, and an exoskelton made of a metal he's dubbed Unobtanium (because it's so incredibly expensive, it's unobtainable. Insert knee slapping laughter here). Brazzelton is given a blank cheque to build a full-sized working version of his vessel, which will be piloted by shuttle astronauts Iverson (Greenwood) and "Beck" Childs (Swank), and manned by mission experts Zimsky, Keyes, Brazzelton, and "Guess Who'll Die First French Guy", Sergie Leveque (The Good Thief's Tchéky Karyo). On the surface, the crew will be monitored by a crack team that includes "Stick" Stickley (Woodard), a NASA flight operator who is apparently the best damned NASA flight operator ever, as well as Taz Finch (the freakish D.J. Qualls), an elite hacker assigned to prevent news of the mission from leaking out onto the internet, thus preventing international panic.
The ship is finished, and the crew descend into the Earth towards it's chewy center, to drop a payload of nukes that will, hopefully, restart the Earth's spinning engine. Along the way, the crew do battle with furious geodes, evil chunks of diamonds, and the relentless horror of null space. Every obstacle claims a crew member's life, as we cut to the dour expressions of Stick and Finch, who perhaps realise that their roles are simply demographic decisions and have no real impact on the film. Soon, it becomes apparent that the Earth's core hasn't just stopped on it's own, but as a direct result of a secret government experiment dubbed Project:Destiny gone awry. Destiny was designed to destroy the Earth in the event that the U.S. ended up on the losing side of a nuclear war by setting off a seismic reaction in the center of the planet. When the terranauts realise they don't have enough explosives to get the core moving again, the big bad U.S. military guys decide that only Destiny can save them, however Keyes assures them that using Destiny will only hasten the Earth's destruction and that they just need more time. The military dudes, who've already shelled out untold billions in trust of Keyes, suddenly opt not to pay attention to him anymore, so it's up to uber-hacker Finch to do something other than make geeky wisecracks, and give the intrepid crew a chance to save the planet the old fashioned way.
The Core is a relentlessly silly film that sits firmly between Armageddon and Journey to the Center of the Earth on the implausability scale. Still, it's a reasonably entertaining farce of the popcorn variety, and, mercifully, plays it's heavy hand much lighter than Michael Bay's emotional button pusher. The ensemble cast is both a blessing and a curse in that, while it's an impressive list of names, it's as if that's why they were assembled in the first place. Woodard and Qualls are virtually useless in the film, while the excellent Tchéky Karyo is here simply to make it seem more of an international endeavor, and to wax philosophical about love in the Frenchest of ways. Apparently Britain, Japan, Russia, and the rest of the world weren't up to the task. The rest of the cast does a fine job with what they're given, but Stanley Tucci (who is just a fantastic actor, and features in one of my favourite films, the sweet and hilarious Big Night) absolutely steals the show as the Sagan-like Zimsky. His performance alone is reason enough to watch the film, and adds an extra skull to the overall rating.
The Core is presented on a packed DVD from the fine folks at Paramount, and features a commentary track from director Amiel, a very in-depth making of featurette, ten deleted scenes, and a boat load of the usual stuff, including trailers, filmographies, and more. As with most "blockbuster" releases, the film is available in both a widescreen and fullscreen version, but regular readers don't need me to tell you which version I recommend.
The Core is a guilty pleasure. It's as dumb as a box of hammers at times, but it's still a fun flick that never takes itself too seriously, and it's worth a look if only to witness Stanley Tucci "slum it" so well that it's one of the best performances of his career. It's a hoot.