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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
US critics take aim at Pearl Harbor
The boat where the American première took place
Negative press reviews in America for Pearl Harbor
By New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Pearl Harbor, the most eagerly anticipated film of the US summer movie season, has been hit by a barrage of negative reviews as it arrives in American cinemas.

The New York Times was relatively restrained, with critic AO Scott describing the costly $140m World War 2 romantic action spectacle as "not a terrible movie, but rather a defiantly, extravagantly average one".

Scott went on to paraphrase Churchill writing that, "never have so many spent so much on so little".

The New York Daily News asserts: "Pearl Harbour is an epic disappointment" and a "silly bloated war extravaganza".

Less generously the Associated Press reviewer, David Germain, boldly declares the movie as "three hours of dreck" and charges that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay have created "a dumb, soulless behemoth that delivers the cinematic equivalent of shell shock".

Ben Affleck is caught up in a love triangle with Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett
Ben Affleck is criticised for his "wooden performance"
Much of the criticism focuses on a perceived structural problem, that the romantic triangle involving Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale, is poorly written and acted, and that it fails to ignite much heat.

The characters are described as "tepid" and "inauthentic", mouthing cliché-ridden dialogue.

The New York Times critic says: "Nearly every line of the script drops from the actors' mouths with the leaden clank of exposition, timed with bad sitcom beats."

The weakness of the romantic story is seen as a major flaw because it prevents the audience caring about the characters in the carnage that follows.

Several critics have drawn comparisons between Pearl Harbor and Titanic, pointing out that James Cameron's disaster epic worked much more effectively because the romantic and dramatic aspects of the story meshed extremely well.

By contrast, the romance and action in Pearl Harbor is seen as clumsily unrelated.

Kate Beckinsale plays a nurse caught between two friends
USA Today complains that Kate Beckinsale has been "submerged under heaps of tarty make-up"
While the romance has drawn condemnation, the action sequences when the Japanese begin their surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet has elicited praise.

This 40-minute middle section of the film contains a lot of gunfire, explosions and special effects, and there is no mistaking that this is where much of the budget was spent.

Variety's critic Todd McCarthy writes that the central attack sequence "combines razzle-dazzle pyrotechnics with high-grade visual effects".

But the Washington Post reviewer Desson Howe was not overly impressed, finding the visuals well done, "but not mind-blowingly memorable".

US critics vary in their view of the actors' performances. Ben Affleck gets criticised for turning in a wooden performance.

Variety writes: "The blandly handsome Affleck couldn't convince that he'd ever so much as been turned down for a date, much less lost the love of his life."

Kate Beckinsale gets off a little more lightly, but USA Today complains that she has been submerged "under heaps of tarty makeup that even actresses of the era didnt wear."

War veteran Hank Potter arriving at the US première
War veterans attended the première, some of them praised the film
The negative criticism comes in the wake of a tightly orchestrated publicity campaign and a lavish première in Hawaii where veterans praised the film.

This epic, brimming with patriotic messages that America was brave, noble and resourceful in World War II in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, has been applauded in military circles. The film was produced with the co-operation of the Navy.

Not everyone buys the argument that the film is innocent entertainment. Toby Miller, Professor Of Cinema Studies at New York University, says the movie is a fantasy, allowing America to feel good about its foreign policy since World War II.

"This country has waged endless wars all over the planet that are not very ethical and not very moral and so stories like Pearl Harbor enable us to have one foundational myth that is ethical and good, and that is World War Two," he says.

But for the millions expected to flock to see Pearl Harbor on the Memorial Day weekend, a time when many Americans are paying respects to those who lost their lives in war, there is no doubt that the film's strong patriotic themes will resonate.

The prevailing view among US box office analysts is that the heavily promoted Pearl Harbor will remain critic-proof, at least in its early stages of release.

The film is opening at more than 3,200 cinemas across America where it is expected to draw big crowds over the holiday weekend.

Pearl Harbor could even break box office records if it trounces the $90m that The Lost World: Jurassic Park took in during the same weekend in 1997.

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See also:

25 May 01 | Reviews
Pearl Harbor sinks fast
22 May 01 | Film
Pearl Harbor: Reliving history
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