Summer big-screen fare, thy name is spectacle. By that standard -- i.e., the trophy goes to the biggest, loudest, longest, most expensive and most capable of drawing attention and generating hype -- the $135 million Pearl Harbor may be the most buttery popcorn movie of the hot season. It's the winner of its own meaningless competition.
Just take a look at the 40-minute centerpiece of this entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying World War II epic, directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon) and produced by action titan Jerry Bruckheimer: The Japanese attack of the Pacific fleet in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy" according to a saintly President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight), is presented as a series of mondo-cool, apocalyptic explosions, a visually stunning mix of remarkable logistical feats and computer-generated effects.
The more the merrier, Bay must have been thinking. Scores and scores of enemy fighter planes flood the skies above the naval base, and viewers get to follow the point of view of a bomb as it falls on its way to wreak massive destruction. Sailors are tossed to and fro like toy soldiers. A ship tips sideways, sending its human cargo rolling down the deck, a la "Titanic." A lowly cook (an underused Cuba Gooding Jr.) mans an anti-aircraft gunner, hitting dead center on several targets. Meanwhile, the planes keep coming and coming and coming.
In the midst of the blurrily photographed havoc at a hospital, Evelyn, a brave, beautiful nurse (Kate Beckinsale), dives into the mess as she uses her bare hands to save a man from bleeding to death. A pair of handsome pilots, the cocksure Rafe (Ben Affleck) and more introspective Danny (Josh Hartnett), best friends from back home in Tennessee and now rivals for the love of the same woman, grab the last two still-functioning planes and send several Japanese pilots to their deaths
"Pearl Harbor," sure to be the box-office champ of the summer, if not the year, is little more than a perfunctory plot wrapped around a whopper of an action sequence, with the whole package rather cynically wrapped up with a bow of red, white and blue. The human drama is practically nil, as we don't know enough about Evelyn or her squabbling beaus to care about what happens to them. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out what will happen to the flyboy who's the recipient of this speech by Evelyn: "I'll be here, waiting for you." (Whoops.)