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Friday, March 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stanley Tucci's performance holds together 'The Core'

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review


**
"The Core," with Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls, Richard Jenkins. Directed by Jon Amiel, from a screenplay by Cooper Layne and John Rogers. 125 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi/death situations and brief strong language. Several theaters.

If circumstances ever find me on a subterranean vessel hell-bent on boring into the center of the Earth, I can only hope that Stanley Tucci will also be aboard. In "The Core," a bizarre tale of "terranauts" who must delve into the Earth's core and detonate a nuclear device, Tucci, as a preening celebrity geophysicist (hey, it's a movie), almost singlehandedly makes the journey watchable.

While everybody else aboard is scurrying around the vessel, saying things like "It's not going to work without oxygen!" and "Hey guys, we're close to the mantle interface!," Tucci's character is busy dictating his memoirs, suavely smoking in nonsmoking zones, or skulking around raising his eyebrows at everyone.

It's a wild, scenery-chewing performance that has the feel of an actor taking matters into his own hands — perhaps director Jon Amiel was too busy supervising the (admittedly impressive) effect of blowing up the Golden Gate Bridge to notice.

Outside of Tucci's performance, things progress in typical sci-fi/disaster-movie fashion. An odd phenomenon is noted — namely, that massive numbers of people worldwide are mysteriously dying, always in very picturesque locations such as the Eiffel Tower or Trafalgar Square (where massive numbers of pigeons drop like flies, as if it's a steroid-fueled remake of "The Birds"). A team must be assembled to save the world — and Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and Delroy Lindo, among others, are up for the task.

The special effects have mixed success; the subterranean spaceship looks from the outside like a time machine, and from the inside like a motion-simulation theme-park ride, with the entire trip resembling a journey through the inner ear. But "The Core" maintains a goofy likability, mostly due to Tucci and a sweetly earnest performance by Swank as a young astronaut, whose duties mostly consist of flipping switches and looking worried. Scientists may shudder, but at least some good actors are getting work.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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