Space Balls

area theaters

Moon Warriors
The Soap Factory, Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m.

So is Armageddon really The Thrill Ride of the Summer, a 10+, Bruce Willis's Best Action Movie Since Die Hard, and the Star Wars/Top Gun/Towering Inferno of the '90s? Let's start with the unquoteworthy capsule review I gave the publicist who politely cornered me after the screening: "Well," I mumbled, "it wasn't awful."

Clearly, the odds of that quote reaching the print ad are about the same as a Texas-size asteroid hitting the earth--which, per Armageddon's scientific advisors, does indeed happen every 10 million years or so. Believe me, dear ticket buyer, an honest and tactful response to a publicist's "Whad'ya think?" can be tough to muster, especially after two and a half hours of "global killer" FX, earsplitting explosions, and cartoonish male bonding--not to mention Liv Tyler. Maybe I should have said that Armageddon is a $160-Million Frat Boy Movie and the Most Patriotic Hollywood Picture Since Independence Day. On the other hand, to proclaim simply that this epic "wasn't awful" does amount to something like high praise in the misadventurous season of Godzilla et al. At least a ticket for Armageddon buys the total destruction of several major cities, a few lines of memorably silly dialogue, one or two cool images of outer space, and the all-male fantasy of saving the world in trade for a lifelong exemption from taxes--and Liv Tyler. Like I said: not awful.

Armageddon may be overlong but it takes no time flat to earn its Two Thumbs Up: In one of the first scenes, a bulldog named Little Richard picks a fight with a plastic Godzilla (ha ha) just before a hailstorm of "small asteroid fragments" turns the Empire State Building on its head. And for the film's doomsaying prologue, Charlton Heston appears in voiceover to signify the return of the '70s disaster film and reactionary machismo in general, waxing nostalgic on the Lost World of dinosaurs--back before "a piece of rock just six miles wide changed all that."

For the characters (if not the viewer), the new asteroid occasions a return to stone-age politics: Be afraid, be very afraid. A rural astronomer suggests naming the coming threat after his wife, "a vicious, life-suckin' bitch" (ha ha). Meanwhile, Willis's oil-drilling hard guy, Harry, a self-described "third-generation driller," is introduced driving golf balls into the hull of a Greenpeace vessel. The mirror-opposite of Deep Impact, Mimi Leder's identically premised liberal weepie, Armageddon is aggressively retro and proudly un-P.C. The hero, if you can call him that, has a comically tough time letting go of Grace (Tyler), his grown daughter, whom he catches in bed with fellow driller A.J. (Ben Affleck) and "protects" by firing a few warning shots at her suitor. This is meant to show that Harry just wants the best for his little girl.

Deep Impact's heroine had father trouble, too (part of the hulking mass metaphor?), but here Liv Tyler likewise has to act under the gaze of her hard-rock daddy (Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, whose power balladry lends undue subtext to a scene of Grace and A.J. enjoying foreplay with Animal Crackers). In the film's balls-out second half, poor Grace/Liv is reduced to a blubbering fashion spread--sometimes flipping her hair in front of the American flag--while both Daddy and the boyfriend go off to war. As these two guys and their charmingly immature crew try to drill a nuclear bomb 800 feet into the rock, the asteroid becomes the setting for a protracted mix of suspense and slapstick. Basically, it's Stripes in space, with dialogue co-written by a slumming Robert Towne (Chinatown). As an Army general puts it: "The fate of the world is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn't trust with a potato gun."

Or a camera. Armageddon's auteur is in fact a producer, Jerry Bruckheimer--whose Flashdance, "clichés aside, actually did change lives," according to the press kit. Be that as it may, everything that isn't life-changing about this big-dick no-brainer is clearly the fault of director Michael Bay (The Rock), a stylistically inept filmmaker whose worldview draws equally from flag-waving AT&T commercials, MTV, and Saturday Night Live. The biggest bummer about this insular Armageddon is that it's a film about the end of the world that evokes no sense of real danger: What's at stake is merely the great American way of dumb multiplex blockbusters.

Not so in Moon Warriors, another endearingly campy Hong Kong action flick that also makes room for a few genuine points about loyalty and self-sacrifice. With a killer cast that includes Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, Andy Lau, and a whale sidekick named Hai Wei, this wild story of swashbuckling and feudal politics had no less than four directors and it's still more coherent than Bay's behemoth. And, as an alternative to megamall moviegoing, the film is perfectly served by its venue: Moon Warriors screens Saturday at the Soap Factory gallery as Asian Media Access's contribution to "Multiplex," the annual Independence Day blowout in which local indie exhibitors collectively unspool their rebel wares. (For more "Multiplex" info, see A List, p. 44, and Film Clips, p. 39.)

As film-industry fireworks are the order of business, how's this for a salvo? "Multiplex" is The Most Explosive Movie Event of the Year!

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