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“The Core”

At day’s end, audiences will find that this disaster flick is more about the crust than the core of moviemaking. But life on the crust isn’t always all bad. And neither is “The Core.”

To what would you attribute birds in London’s Trafalgar Square suddenly dropping out of the sky, slamming into windows and wreaking havoc on poor pedestrians? 

If you were Dr. Josh Keyes, played ably by Aaron Eckhart in Paramount’s “The Core,” you’d conclude that something was awfully wrong with Earth’s electromagnetic (EM) field. 

In the movie, something is wrong: Earth’s core has stopped spinning, and the EM field is failing. (Note: The movie’s science is a dramatic and dialogic veneer, not a lesson.) To save the planet from certain destruction by microwave radiation, the core must somehow be jumpstarted into spinning again.  

Therein lies the central conflict in this “disaster movie” from British director Jon Amiel, who doesn’t surpass his last film, the slick “Entrapment,” with this one. 

Disaster movies can be lots of fun. There’s “Armageddon,” “Deep Impact” and “Independence Day,” where the fate of all or a significant part of the planet is in jeopardy. And there’s “The Towering Inferno” and “Airport,” where the disaster is more localized. 

Disaster-movie characters risk personal safety for the greater good. They’re short on time. Their plan fails and they have to think and think fast. One of the most visually arresting elements of the disaster formula is the destruction or threatened destruction of landmarks. In “The Core,” Rome’s Colosseum and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge have a bad day. 

“The Core,” which also stars Hilary Swank and Stanley Tucci, adheres to the disaster formula, while offering a variation on a theme as popular culture products often do. The main characters don’t go into space as astronauts; they go into earth as terranauts. (In “Armageddon,” members of a deep-core drilling team are sent into space; in “The Core,” members of a space shuttle team are sent into earth.) 

Another frequent element of the disaster formula is government involvement. And in “The Core,” the U.S. government determines that a nuclear detonation inside the earth is necessary to get the core spinning again. 

But pulling that off would require a team of scientists, nuclear experts, pilots—you know the drill. Such a team is assembled and shot into the middle of the earth while neatly tucked away in, basically, a mechanical earthworm of a ship. 

Comic relief comes from a computer geek named Rat (D.J. Qualls), hired by the government to “hack the planet” and keep word of a faltering Earth from spreading until the team is given a chance to save the day. 

Rat agrees to the hack, but only if provided “an unlimited supply of Xena tapes and Hot Pockets.” 

Of course, once the team is under way, it has more to do than jumpstart the inner core—because that would be too simple for a Hollywood blockbuster. Shenanigans, you see, have been afoot regarding a team member and the U.S. government. 

The cast is solid. The writing isn’t spectacular, but it’s functional. The same goes for the special effects. The ending lacks punch, but it tries.

At day’s end, audiences will find that this disaster flick is more about the crust than the core of moviemaking. But life on the crust isn’t always all bad. And neither is “The Core.”  

Cliff Vaughn is associate director for EthicsDaily.com. 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi life/death situations and brief strong language

Director: Jon Amiel

Writers: Cooper Layne and John Rogers

Cast: Josh Keyes: Aaron Eckhart; Rebecca Childs: Hilary Swank; Edward Brazleton: Delroy Lindo; Conrad Zimsky: Stanley Tucci; Sergei Leveque: Tcheky Karyo; Robert Iverson: Bruce Greenwood; Rat: D.J. Qualls.