- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

How much benefit of the doubt is owed a producer-director team behind mercenary and stupefying action spectacles when the duo attempt a thematic upgrade to historical re-enactment with epic and patriotic pretensions?

Not much, to judge by "Pearl Harbor," which reunites producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. They are the blunt instruments who collaborated on "Bad Boys," "The Rock" and "Armageddon" during the 1990s.

"Pearl Harbor" turns out to be the pair´s sneaky way of remaking the megahit "Titanic" while also horning in on the World War II revival stirred by "Saving Private Ryan."

The Titanic-Pearl Harbor affinities had not occurred to me because I associate the two with different circumstances and time frames. Having seen the disaster imagery simulated for Mr. Bay by the digital animators and trick-shot specialists at Industrial Light & Magic, however, I acknowledge that the sight of U.S. battleships breaking up and sinking and endangering the lives of survivors trapped in the wreckage does share a strong pictorial resemblance to the sight of James Cameron´s luxury liner in cinematic death agonies.

The credited screenwriter for "Pearl Harbor," Randall Wallace of "Braveheart" renown, also has taken a leaf from the love story contrived for "Titanic." In this case, two country-bred flyboys, Ben Affleck as Rafe and Josh Hartnett as Danny, fall for the same angelic nurse, Kate Beckinsale as Evelyn.

Melodramatic expediency compels Rafe to drop out of sight after volunteering to leave the Army Air Force in order to win the Battle of Britain. Just when he has become the scourge of the Luftwaffe, he has to ditch in the English Channel.

A resurrected Rafe behaves like a total sorehead and whiner when he returns from the dead, the better part of a year later, on the very eve of the surprise Japanese raid on American military installations on Oahu. By then, Danny and Evelyn have consoled each other with a love affair. They feel awful Danny because of his inferiority complex and Evelyn because a pregnancy complicates her divided love life. Under the circumstances, one awaits the Japanese armada and the battle cry of "Tora, tora, tora" with profound gratitude.

"Pearl Harbor" offers a prolonged stretch of special-effects combat and peril. The Japanese carrier pilots, unencumbered by romantic subplots, strike the ships and planes with undeniable scenic and visceral impact.

The actors could use some protection. Judging from Evelyn, no one would mistake Kate Beckinsale for one of the wittiest and most attractive newcomers of the 1990s. Judging from Rafe, Ben Affleck as an indomitable leading man is one of those brainstorms that just won´t pan out.

The subject would seem to lend itself to an impressionistic format, encompassing a number of people caught up in the shock, suffering and heroic imperatives of the experience. Cuba Gooding Jr. seems not only the token black cast member and sailor, but also the token example of how a mosaic approach might have worked. Introduced as a cook who boxes, he outpunches an opponent twice his size in order to prepare us for a rousing burst of volunteerism behind an anti-aircraft gun.

"Pearl Harbor," which runs almost three hours, uses the last half-hour to demonstrate that America was prepared to fight back. The quixotic "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" bombing mission entrusted to Col. James Dolittle five months after the Pearl Harbor raid gets a rush treatment.

I´m not sure admirers of President Franklin D. Roosevelt will feel all that thrilled by the movie´s excruciating solicitude either: FDR (played by Jon Voight) painfully stands upright to illustrate to his Cabinet that a crippled America is capable of striking back at the aggressor.


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