Bruce Willis leads a team of oil rig roughnecks on a mission to blow up an asteroid before it hits earth.
The latest entry in the "let's kick some asteroid butt" stakes is a doomsday countdown spectacle from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and "Bad Boy" Bay that extends their commitment to extreme tosh. With no messing about, this opens on the demolition of downtown Manhattan plus the imperilment of a nice little dog, all within a few minutes. Yikes! It's a meteor shower, heralding "the worst parts of the Bible" to come, and the first of a thousand-and-one big bangs: whenever there's a lull in proceedings, there's a wake-up call such as the splattering of Shanghai or - a highlight - the annihilation of Paris.
At the obligatory scientific-military crisis conflab with NASA's director (Thornton) we get a refresher course in extermination events. This particular cosmic uh-oh, Asteroid Dottie, is the size of Texas and will hit planet Earth in 18 days, leaving not even a bacterium alive. Our only hope is for a rock rendezvous mission to drill a hole deep into the sucker and nuke it at the core. Hence the urgent need to locate "the world's best deep-core driller". Cue Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper, a rowdy, globe-trotting maverick inspired by famed oil well firefighter Red Adair. Harry graciously agrees to save the world - like ya do - but only if he can take his own team with him.
Enter a ragtag bag of roughneck, rambunctious and ex-criminal cowboys who include Harry's calm best buddy (Will Patton), a gigantic muscleman Ving Rhames lookalike (Michael Clarke Duncan), a Zen-babbling young dude Matthew McConaughey lookalike (Owen Wilson), the handsome reckless stud (Affleck) - who's in love with Harry's gorgeous, headstrong daughter (Tyler) - and a wisecracking weirdo genius geologist (it could only be Steve Buscemi). Et voila, it's The Dirty Dozen in space! Except there are eight of them. Plus some Dudley Do-Right astronauts to shudder at the rogues' "wrong stuff" and shepherd them to where a driller's gotta do what a driller's gotta do. That's after they've raised hell in training, milked their comic schticks so long you hope all of them die, and bade their tender, tearful farewells, amid slo-mo homages to sundry heroic space films.
In addition to the two credited with the screenplay, Jonathan Hensleigh (The Rock, Con Air), and J.J. Abrams (Forever Young), a veritable mob of "serious" screenwriters - including Robert Towne, Paul Attanasio and Scott Rosenberg - was deployed to provide action ideas, key dramatic sequences, wisecracks for the boys. Collectively they should be cringing, because much of this opus has the basic content and tone of a Coca-Cola ad: extras clustered for intermittent, picturesque group poses at the Taj Mahal, a Midwestern farmstead or a Balkans village, eyeing the skies and sharing the moment. There are also abundant gag-making shots of stoic principals framed by the Stars And Stripes, hammering home the inadequacies of the Russians with their delapidated spaceware, or anyone else on earth, to undertake the task at hand.
A long halfway in, our hooligans finally lift off in two shuttles with their astronaut minders, and everything that can go wrong does, with bells on. There can't have been one explosives guy in Hollywood who didn't rack up major overtime pay while a rendezvous with the Mir space station adds a wacky space cosmonaut (Buscemi's lethal Fargo henchman partner Peter Stormare) to the team.
Had Armageddon foregone the comedy and corn, the film would have been an hour long instead of the two-and-a-half in which some potentially thrilling momentum is lost. But Bruckheimer's genius for posturing, vulgarity and cheap sentiment fun rivals Cecil B. DeMille's (hey, he even uses Charlton Heston as narrator!) To its credit, more happens in the first five minutes of Armageddon than in the whole of Deep Impact, and if you get off on global catastrophe you'll enjoy this more.
It's a million laughs (many of them unintentional), and it even has a mildly revolutionary ending. In a dismal summer for popcorn movies, this epic may be the silliest but still looks like the best shot.