Screw the planet.

Things are going wrong. Thirty-two people wearing pacemakers in New York City all drop dead at once, and it’s not because the warranty just expired. In London’s Trafalgar Square, chaos ensues when people are pelted by pigeon droppings. Er, make that pigeons dropping. Then the space shuttle almost collides with downtown Los Angeles (although, personally, I couldn’t see the problem here). Most mysterious of all, Stanley Tucci has grown hair. “What on earth could be causing these catastrophes?” you ask. Then, just as suddenly, you realize that the earth’s molten metal core must’ve stopped rotating, resulting in the disruption of the earth’s electromagnetic field. You’re so clever.

Aaron Eckhart is the first to put two and two together and get “Oh shiiit.” He takes his concerns to arrogant genius Stanley Tucci, who reluctantly agrees to elevate the crisis to the powers in Washington. In a meeting presided over by an army general who keeps wondering why the problem can’t simply be solved by nuking it, Eckhart sets an apple ablaze with an improvised flame thrower, proclaims “This is the earth in one year,” and then ponders whether his stocks will go up or down. “But couldn’t we just nuke it?” asks the general. “We’d have to nuke the earth’s core,” moans Eckhart – a classic case of we can’t get there from here. So in steps mad scientist Delroy Lindo, who just so happens to have invented a gattling gun that fires laser beams that can get there from here. A ship is hastily constructed, shuttle pilot Hilary Swank and her captain are drafted to fly it (since they did so well slamming the shuttle into the L.A. drainage basin), and Eckhart, Tucci, and Lindo fill out the rest of the crew. Tcheky Karyo is also brought onboard, because, well, actually I have no idea. But he does have a cool accent. The only thing left to decide is which one gets left behind on the asteroid.

Every time someone asks what could’ve caused the earth’s core to stop spinning, Tucci and the army general exchange glances like they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Turns out Tucci has invented a military weapon to cause earthquakes, dubbed the Deep Earth Seismic Tremor INItiator. Now, you and I can both see that the acronym for that spells “DESTINI,” and sure enough that’s what Tucci and the general call it. But in all subsequent scenes where the name appears in print, the film calls it “DESTINY,” proving the filmmakers were paying even less attention to the script than I was. Tucci gets the brilliant idea that since DESTINI started this whole mess, maybe firing it up a second time will straighten things out. Although this is the intellectual equivalent of blowing up the Hindenburg twice to fix the first time, the general decides it’s a good idea, and thus we have another race against time for our heroes to succeed with their plan before DESTINI really screws the pooch.

There are so many obvious violations of physics (and just plain common sense) during the course of events, only a truly mean-spirited person would stoop to pointing them out. So I won’t bother. Well, okay, but just one. There’s a scene where Lindo is cutting away with an oxy-acetylene rig, and the torch starts sputtering because it’s running out of oxygen. So Eckhart grabs the airline from his pressure suit and jacks it into the torch line (naturally, the fittings match). Now either Eckhart was breathing pure oxygen, which I’d rather hope not, or the compressed air from his airline is going to fark up the torch in a major way. But the darn thing purrs along like a kitten getting a tummy rub.

It’s all fun and silly adventure, and on that level it works fairly well. I would’ve enjoyed the film more had the effects been better. They’re not awful, but it’s hard to be awed by digital images that look only one generation removed from Saturday morning cartoons. Model work is scant, although what’s there is pretty good. I just wish all the digital crap didn’t look so much like, well, digital crap. For example, there’s a scene which is done with CGI where the Roman Colosseum gets blown into plaster dust by lightning bolts. A well-detailed model, some good cinematography, and some real explosives would’ve produced a much more memorable image.

Here’s a case where you can assign your own movie rating without even seeing the film. Think what you would’ve given Armageddon, and that’s about how you’d rate The Core. The effects aren’t as good, but the directing is much less annoying. All the while during the screening, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay were behind me muttering “We should’ve made this film… We should’ve made this film.” Finally, I had to turn around and say, “Dudes, you already did.”