Pearl Harbor (2001)

PEARL HARBOR is a bomb.  No, wait, it's a dud!  No, wait, it sinks! 
Eight days and umpteen thumbs down later and the hyper-hyped, Most 
Expensive Movie Ever Made (Or So They Say) is actually quite the Peo-
ria-player-- an innocuous, shamelessly schlocky, and only late-lag-
ging crowd-pleaser that's less Great War Movie(tm) than an all-ages, 
no-edges, Jerry Bruckheimer-style Disney ride.  (Wait, scratch that 
last one, lest Walt and Company get any ideas...)  The war gore is 
mild, the patriotism PC, and the (intermittent) humor can be "gotten" 
by anyone.  e.g., stuttering Privates, buttocks-administered booster 
shots, and so on.  (A second-hour, Wile E. Coyote-inspired ordnance 
"gag," however, is glaringly out-of-place.)  Michael Bay, of THE ROCK 
and ARMAGEDDON fame, directs with his customary big-assed close-ups 
and hyperactive quick-cutting, both of which, believe it or not, ac-
tually *add* to the overall visual appeal.  First, with lots of big, 
vibrant, larger-than-life images-- typically filmed in slow-motion, 
of course-- and, secondly, by a persistent sort of... nervous energy 
that helps hold our attention during even the most mundane story mo-
ments or cliched screen sights.  You know, like the requisite hammy 
death scenes, teary good-byes, and steam-filled railroad re-unitings. 
(The director also inter-cuts a wee bit of black-and-white newsreel 
footage, here and there, to help set the necessary stages.) 

The plot, other than recreating that infamous Day of Infamy and all 
the explosions therein, involves a pair of best-friend fly boys (Ben 
Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and the Hawaii-stationed nurse (Kate Beck- 
insale) they both fall in love with.  (First Affleck's aviator, then 
Hartnett's.)  Plus cutaways to the politicos, Jon Voight's President 
Roosevelt on one side-- the veteran actor wheelchair bound, duh, and 
disguised underneath puffy prosthetic jowls-- and Mako's Admiral Ya-
mamoto on the other.  (The latter one of several all-too-familiar A-
sian actors appearing here.)  As minor marquee draws go, Aff 'n' Beck  
are both beautiful enough to serve Randall Wallace's short-reaching 
script.  (Listen closely to the dialogue at your own peril.)  Joshman  
is a more ruggedly handsome presence, but he works.  And if the three 
actors are dramatic lightweights, their characterizations have just 
enough color to color them likeable.  (For the boys, it's twangy Ten-
nessee accents and slightly hotter than cooler heads; for Nurse Bet-
ty, she's a good flirt and has strong improvisation skills.)  What's 
*missing* from the cast, however, is a parade of bigger-name stars. 
Save for the odd Alec Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Cuba Gooding Jr., or Dan 
Aykroyd appearance, this ain't no IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WAR, with 
famous faces peeking out from behind hospital curtains or under dirty 
cockpit glass.

As most folks have heard, the film's "money shot"-- the title attack
-- doesn't occur until ninety minutes in.  Happily, that hour-and-a-
half passes pretty quickly.  We're shown extensive "pre war" details, 
from flier wannabes cheating on medical tests to the methodically un-
folding plans of the enemy Japanese.  (The latter both providing the 
necessary Hiss Factor [HF] and helping to explain exactly *how* said 
sneak attack actually happened.)  We see Affleck volunteer for over-
seas duty, where his character's ace abilities are shown in montage-- 
presumably culled from one or more fully-edited air combat sequences 
filmed for DVD release-- and, a little later, during a nifty daylight 
dogfight turned nail-biting near-bailing turned harrowing water-land-
ing.  (You could say he... makes a splash.)  Meanwhile, his Girl Back 
Home busies *herself* reading letters and looking lovelorn in-between 
changing bedpans.  And, meanwhile-meanwhile, the many hints of a com-
ing attack (nice inclusion there) going unnoticed or misinterpreted 
by Uncle Sam.  Until it's too late, that is.  Until goose-bump time.

Yup, the 'bumps in PEARL HARBOR are the *best* kind-- prickly skin-
raisers that tickle your neck as they race your pulse right before 
Something Happens(tm).  Here, it's storybook shot after storybook 
shot of low-flyng Zeroes that no one on the island seems to notice 
until the bombs begin dropping.  And when said special effects on-
slaught begins, be prepared for at a least a *couple* sights you've 
never seen before.  Like the USS Arizona lifted into the air, its 
torpedoed hull splitting like so much steel cardboard.  Or a you-are-
there kamikaze run complete with blazing fuselage hurtling toward the 
camera.  (*Many* flaming objects hurtle toward the camera in this 
one.)  Yup, quite a few unforgettable images.  And nearly all so ter-
ribly real, save for a few fake-looking explosions.  And, I suppose, 
and a full-size but obviously not full-*scale* battleship deck that 
tilts TITANIC-style to the side, spilling stuntmen, er, sailors into 
the drink.  Yup, just go ahead and hand 'em the Visual Effects Oscar 
right now.

As for the gazillion casualties, the triage and hospital scenes are 
filmed with a blurry filter, sparing the audience a more-detailed 
peek at the many burns, bullet wounds, and other traumas.  Not much 
nasty *dialogue*, either.  Precious few curse words or epithets are 
hurled here, though the historical "correctness" is pleasantly broken 
by Cuba Gooding Jr. as a black cook who takes an unprecedented-for- 
the-time combat role.  Alas, if PH has an obviously flaw-- an *unmis- 
takably* obviously flaw-- it's its utter lack of conflict.  There's 
no dramatic impetus here, neither characters worth investing in, nor 
a story to truly engage.  Sure, the film is interesting to *watch*, 
but not compellingly so.  Not as a narrative.  (Mind you, said label 
of "watchability" applies only to the first 150 minutes.  The last 
half-hour is such an ass-number you'd *swear* the film was *four* 
hours in length...)  Ergo, I go, you go, a go-go, the sole selling 
point of PEARL HARBOR is the obvious one: the mega-million dollar re- 
creation of the bombing.  AKA "war porn."  And, I guess, so what if 
it *is*?  The explosions are exciting; the dogfights better than any 
(well, *most*) video games, and the hundreds of on-screen deaths all 
effectively shocking.  And, unpleasant memories for viewing vets not-
withstanding, maybe it'll serve as a reminder of why military spend-
ing is a *good* thing.  You know, for when nations don't play nice... 
The Arizona burned for three days.  (Rated "PG-13"/184 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros 

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros