Pearl Harbor (2001)
Main cast: Ben Affleck (Rafe McCawley), Josh Hartnett (Danny Walker), Kate Beckinsale (Evelyn Johnson), William Lee Scott (Billy), Greg Zola (Anthony Winkle), Ewen Bremner (Red), Alec Baldwin (Doolittle), James King (Betty), Catherine Kellner (Barbara), Jennifer Garner (Sandra), Michael Shannon (Theo), Jon Voight (President Roosevelt), Cuba Gooding Jr (Doris 'Dorie' Miller), Matthew Davis (Joe), and Mako (Admiral Yamamoto)
Director: Michael Bay

Pearl Harbor wants so desperately to be this year's Titanic that it's pathetic. Full of cringeworthy sappy dialogues even a bad romance novel would get an allergy over, bad one-note "emotional faces", and slow, slow, slow pace, the best advice I can give to anyone who couldn't stomach Titanic is to walk into Pearl Harbor only in the final forty or so minutes. That's when the action and special effects start.

Hey, I love Titanic, mind you. I sat through the corny dialogues seven times because at least the romance in Titanic, no matter how corny and contrived it is, has a realistic ring to it: Rose's chaffing against her social strictures can happen to me or any woman. And Kate Winslet is a talented actress who can pee and still make it exciting (and she did, in Holy Smoke).

But the scriptwriter of Pearl Harbor, Randall Wallace, has no idea how to make even contrivances exciting. Full of Z-grade clichés to the point of obscenity, we see the opening frame of happy, smiling children running in endless green fields. Children = innocents = war is bad, that sort of linear extrapolation. We see two best friends, Rafe and Danny, who grow up to be "wild, reckless, rule-breaking" men of uniform. Yee-haw. Rafe loves Evelyn, who ends up one of the way too few women in the army base. Danny loves Evelyn too. Well, there aren't enough women around, you know.

What else? Rafe flies to action, and never comes back. Is he dead? Never mind - will Danny and Evelyn do the deed? Will Rafe come back? Is this movie predictable or what?

Rafe, Danny, and Evelyn are cardboards. What makes Rafe tick? Why is he in love with Evelyn? Why is Danny in love with Evelyn? Is Evelyn even human? I have no idea. All I get is long, boring scenes of pretty faces with little substances flirting in the most inane dialogues and settings ever, complete with hand-holding and staring at perfect midnight starry skies. Ugh.

Incidentally, Affleck has much more chemistry with Hartnett and vice versa than Beckinsale. It's Top Gun homo-subtext all over again. Not that there's anything wrong with that - when Affleck and Hartnett bicker, their faces so close that I half expect their mouths to meet and smooch in their premature personal Pearl Harbor explosion. Wish that happened - Beckingsale and Affleck playing lovers is as dull as watching trees grow. Hartnett and Beckingsale fare worse in a romance that is just clearly created to move the plot along.

Finally, the planes start dropping bombs all over Pearl Harbor. At last, at last. During those movements of pure adrenaline surge, I almost forgive this movie. Then I realize how inept the whole movie is. The Japanese are portrayed as one-note "Ah so! Ah so!" pygmy tribes, but this is no better or worse than the portrayal of Americans as cardboard sheep-like figures with no personality apart from overblown patriotism.

Pearl Harbor is not even the showy pyrotechnics that is Saving Private Ryan. It's an excuse for people to keep Industrial Light and Magic drowning in money. Apart from the 45 or so minutes of pure spectacle, everything else about this movie is Dawson's Creek Goes To War. Strictly for fans of loud noises and explosions, but even then, I doubt they could sit through excruciating hours of Mills-and-Boons-on-crack Rafe-Danny-Evelyn Mushy Show just to get to the bang-bang stuff.

Memo to Michael Bay: for the sequel, have Beckinsale pose nekkid for an art session, wearing nothing but a rifle clasped between her thighs.

Rating: 16

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