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The Core

Some of you might remember ads for The Core on the back of comics back in November. Paramount originally pushed it for a pre-Thanksgiving release (nothing like the end of the world to make you feel all warm for the holidays), then decided that the film could use a little more money in the effects department.

Between its original intended release date and its opening today, we had the space shuttle disaster. Some execs got a little nervous about a sequence near the beginning of The Core in which disruptions in the Earth's magnetic field nearly cause a shuttle to crash. Finally and wisely, the sequence remains as intended. But still, in the matter of timing, The Core just can't seem to win.

Today may just not be the day for a film in which the U.S. Government accidentally triggers the end of the world and then lies to us about it. But though the film plays through its disaster premise from a well-worn roadmap, it's surprisingly good. Not great, but good.

Screenwriters Cooper Layne and John Rogers have taken a bit of hard science and run wild with it, always treating their audience with respect. Yes, the scenario they paint is pure science fiction, but it builds logically until we have to suspend our disbelief. And in a nice touch, they take what science doesn't know about geology, and use that for their plot complications without veering into implausibility.

It begins simply and ominously enough. In a metropolitan city whose identifying subtitle I missed, twenty-five people drop dead. The government calls in Geophysics Professor Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, scruffier than the average leading man in these things) and weapons specialist Sergei Leveque (Tcheky Karyo) to try to figure out what killed them.

Keyes takes less than a minute to figure out that all these people had one thing in common: pacemakers. A very focused electromagnetic pulse knocked them out. As long as Leveque confirms that nobody has a weapon to do this, the military is satisfied.

But Keyes, of course, is not. Good thing, too, because it turns out that the core of our planet has begun slowing down its rotation. The slower it gets, the weaker the electromagnetic shield around the Earth gets. Why should we care? Because that's basically the thing that keeps us from getting quick-baked by microwaves and solar radiation.

Keyes and requisite obnoxious superior Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) demonstrate this quite effectively with a peach, a can of air freshener, and a lighter. See? Entertainment and a science lesson. (Tucci, by the way, plays obnoxious so well that an eleventh hour redemption doesn't help -- the audience still hates him.)

They come up with a scheme so crazy it just might work. If they can bore all the way into the center of the planet and set off a big enough nuclear explosion, the core just might start rotating again. Of course, the deepest man has ever been able to go is seven miles down.

However, it just so happens that a crazy old scientist, Edward Brazelton (Delroy Lindo) has been working on a device out in the Utah desert. And Zimsky just happened to make his name by taking credit for Brazelton's initial research (with dark consequences to be revealed later).

Also thrown into the motley mix of crack experts in their fields are the shuttle pilots from the beginning, Major "Beck" Childs (Hilary Swank, toothy and efficient, playing to her strengths) and Colonel Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood). If you know anything about disaster films, it's time to start placing your bets as to what order the deaths will come, but know that once Iverson lectures Childs on her not yet having to make painful decisions, a little timer might as well appear on his forehead.

Director Jon Amiel stages everything well, though he takes it at an artier pace than these things usually get. For most of the movie, this works out okay, only failing us near the end. Amiel treats some moments with a little dignity that partially hides their hokiness. A couple of character deaths become unexpectedly moving as a result.

And if nothing else, the movie shows more courage and frankness in showing the risks on a personal level than real life has wanted to lately. It's when the scope gets too big that it gets out of control.

Those extra special effects don't really help. Not really Amiel's forte in the first place, they pull us out of the intimate little character drama this movie sometimes is and pop us into outtakes from Independence Day. The Coliseum exploding looks phoney, but a melting Golden Gate fares better, because Amiel first focuses on one victim.

All in all, The Core makes a great amusement park ride, and probably a decent video game, too. Thank heavens somebody in charge remembered that sometimes it's a good idea to make a watchable movie first.

What's it worth? $7.50

Derek McCaw

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