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by Jim Wunderle


Directed by: Michael Bay

Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler

Rated: PG-13

A rock-and-roll guy named Dave Edmunds put out an album in the mid-1970s titled "Subtle as a Flying Mallet." That expression kept popping into my aching mind as I was watching producer Jerry Bruckheimer's latest onslaught, "Armageddon."

Bruckheimer, along with his late partner Don Simpson, has built a career out of this kind of "let's bludgeon the audience" approach to film, and "Armageddon" takes his formula to startling new levels. Since the advent of MTV, there has been a trend in popular action films to "cut, cut, cut" to have an edit every few seconds.

Bruckheimer's films have almost always been this way (he produced "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder" and "Bad Boys"), but he took the approach to its extreme a couple of years ago with "The Rock." I liked that film in some ways, but the sheer volume of the soundtrack and the nonstop visual assault literally wore me out.

"Armageddon" is even more debilitating. Not only is the soundtrack incredibly noise-oriented, there's an edit every five seconds, and a great percentage of the shots are moving at the edit. Dolly moves, zooms in and out, boom shots up and down there is simply no place to mentally "breathe" here. Ten minutes into the picture, I felt as if I'd been beaten with a baseball bat.

All that said, I will admit there was something I liked about "Armageddon." The basic story (in terms of mindless Hollywood action films) was pretty decent, and they made fine use of the special-effects department. There are also a few good, somewhat cynical, laughs, courtesy of the always off-kilter Steve Buscemi.

When we first meet hot-shot oil rig driller Harry Stamper, he's whacking golf balls at a Greenpeace vessel that's protesting off-shore drilling.

Harry and his rampant roughnecks are enlisted by the U.S. government to take a couple of space shuttles, land on an approaching asteroid, drill 800 feet into it and spilt it apart with a nuclear bomb. When agreeing to go, Harry reads a list of his boys' demands, one of which is to "Never pay taxes again .... ever!"

So, Harry and company the group is a blatant rip-off of "The Seven Samurai," "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Dirty Dozen," with a bit of "F Troop" thrown in take the challenge and go into a crash course of astronaut training.

Although the dialogue points out that they're going to do this in record time, it feels like the training goes on for months. The filmmakers lift ideas directly from "The Right Stuff," but don't quite achieve the same emotional level that movie evoked.

After their intense training period, and with a scant few hours left before an asteroid "the size of Texas" is due to smash into our fair planet, Harry and company take off for their appointed mission of saving civilization. What follows is a fairly predictable (and loud) version of any given "doomsday" movie.

I guess I'm being more harsh on "Armageddon" than I probably should be, because there's actually a decent story at the core here. It's just presented in a rather obnoxious manner.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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