Reviewed by Mike Brannon
Rating: 8 Beans
was really hoping that, with Pearl Harbor, we would get a historical drama that melded historical research with an entertaining plot. Boy, was I disappointed. This movie plays like the writers never read a book or watched a single documentary about World War II, they only picked up snippets from playing "Castle Wolfenstein" and "Aces of the Pacific" on their computer.
It starts showing two boyhood friends from Tennessee joining the Army Air Force prior to World War II: Rafe McCrawley (Ben "I'd have no career without my buddy Matt" Affleck, looking like a young Powers Boothe) and Danny Walker (gape mouthed moron Josh Hartnett, looking like a young Tommy Lee Jones). They both become hotshot pilots in the AAF, the Hollywood way. You know: doing stupid, dangerous stunts that would get any real life pilot grounded for good, and shouting out cliches over the radio. You see, when you see that in a movie, that indicates that we are to believe the pilot is GOOD, really, really GOOD.
While stationed in Pearl Harbor, the two boys meet up with Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) and Rafe and Evelyn fall in love. Meanwhile, we cut over to Japan and see Yamamoto (Mako) creating plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor. In this day and age, you couldn't portray the japanese as evil charactertures like in the 50's and 60's war movies. It's not politically correct. So the filmmakers come up with a compromise: no japanese characters are developed, at all.
Rafe gets bored and decides to go help the British in the Battle of Britain. I don't blame him for being bored: for the first half of the movie, NOTHING HAPPENS. We just see the horny GIs and the slutty nurses are bored stiff so they're passing the time in bed. So Rafe trades in his P40 Aircobra for a Supermarine Spitfire and heads East. Evelyn anxiously awaits the return of her beloved.
I bet you can't guess what happens next! Well, actually, that's not such a safe bet. Rafe adapts well and becomes an ace. During one climactic battle, his Spitfire gets damaged and he has to ditch. As usual in dumb movies like this, the hero's plane has a spectacular but curiously mild and survivable crash landing.
Word reaches Evelyn about Rafe's MIA, and Evie and Danny are stricken with grief (and boredom, NOTHING going on at Pearl, natch) and three months pass, and Evelyn and Danny fall in love.
First of all, Evelyn and Rafe's love never really seemed authentic in this movie: there is no chemistry between the two. They fall in love in two hackeneyed slapstick encounters, but we don't see WHAT draws them together. This makes the Evelyn/Danny romance all the more ludicrous. Danny and Evelyn never really knew each other, and I can't believe the grief over a mutual friend (the ONLY thing they had in common) is enough to spark love. But then, I'm a cynic.
Surprise, Rafe isn't dead, and comes back and sees another rooster is in the henhouse. Rafe is devestated, betrayed and full of fury, understandibly, to see that his buddy made moves on his girl almost immediately when he was out of the picture (pun unintentional). But you see, one punch to Danny's jaw, and that gets rid of all the bad vibes. They are best friends again, the next morning. This movie's logic, especially regarding relationships, makes less and less sense as it goes on. It feels like the screenwriter is a 40 year old freak who never had a girlfriend in his life.
Finally, possibly sensing the audience's anguish over such a stupid, one-dimensional and fundamentally unbelievable love story, the Japanese show up in their Zeros and Kates to bomb Pearl Harbor.
Mind, this is a full hour and a half or so into the movie! The only thing keeping me from walking out of this heavy-handed drivel is the anticipation of the famous bombing.
Yes, the special effects are spectacular. But they are also incredibly redundant. Strafe an airfield, bomb a ship. Men run. Strafe an airfield, bomb a ship. Men run. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Rafe and Danny make it to their P40s and take to the sky and start taking out every plane they encounter. I hate it when "historical drama" turns into a video-game where the heroes never miss and the bad guys alway do.
Meanwhile, back on the ground, the nurses find out that war is horrible. Then the camera loses focus several times, supposedly to get a surreal affect in the infirmary, but the result is just annoying. The nurses are all shocked at the carnage. Wow, I guess they were only trained to sleep with the GIs and booze: far be it for them to be prepared to actually take care of the wounded.
So we spend a good 20 minutes surveying the carnage. Surprisingly, the violence is toned down: everyone is just engulfed in fire and quickly disappear, or fly through the air from blasts. We don't have the extreme violence from "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Thin Red Line." It seems an odd choice for a "historical drama."
Then Evelyn makes her choice: she choose Danny. WHY!?!? And more importantly, is this really significant? I was kind of hoping they would just '86 that mess of a love triangle and just make the rest of the movie explosions and fast planes.
Then, right when the movie really is beginning to wear out its welcome, we open another chapter. The Doolittle Raid. Rafe and Danny are both selected for the Doolittle Raid (wow, Rafe is at The Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor AND the Doolittle Raid. I wonder, if this plodding movie kept going, if rafe was also at Coral Sea, the Ardennes Forest AND the Chancellory Bunker when Hitler blew his brains out? This, folks, is called TAXING CREDIBILITY). Alec Baldwin shows Doolittle as an allegory of the fury and indignation of America, who has the most laughable lines in the movie. (eg: "There's nothing stronger than the heart of a voulunteer." Ach!)
So they pay back the bombing of a military target (Pearl Harbor) by bombing a civilian target (Tokyo). They get damaged and crash-land in China. For some reason, there are Japanese soldiers in china (!!!) who initiate another stupid "Die Hard" like gun battle in which Danny is killed. Rafe comes back, so Evelyn prudently re-thinks things and falls back in love with Rafe.
This movie should have been 30 minutes, not three hours. It is like a huge package that arrives for you, and it is 99.9% filled with styrofoam peanuts. The movie obviously is trying to target "Titanic" fans with this story, but the problem is the complete lack of chemistry and relationship logic between all three of the leads.
Trust me folks, if you haven't seen this bomb, skip it and go to Blockbuster and rent From Here To Eternity instead. It covers the same ground but does it SOOOO much better and more believably.
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