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"Pearl Harbor" shines when it's making war, not love.

Re-Cultured 'Pearl'

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After more than a year of hype, Disney's "Pearl Harbor" is finally in theaters. The most expensive movie made to date, "Pearl Harbor's" trailers have been coy with the plot, choosing instead to play up the special-effects re-creation of Dec. 7, 1941. And let me tell you, those sequences are some of the most exciting ever computer-generated.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay imbue this money shot with all they've got — cameras whooshing around us as if they were the Japanese Zeros wreaking havoc on that sleepy Sunday morning 60 years ago.

But here's the bad news, this infamous attack, the reason why most viewers over the age of 20 will buy a ticket to this PG-13-rated, 3-hour-and-3-minute epic doesn't hit until 1 hour and 30 minutes into the movie. Until then, we are treated to a trio of questionably charismatic young stars playing out that World War II B-movie tradition: the love triangle.

No doubt Disney, Bruckheimer and Bay, who are responsible for such shallow but entertaining actioners such as "The Rock" and "Armageddon," thought they had another "Titanic"-type love story in their hot little hands. Newsflash: They don't come close. While there are obvious similarities — sinking ships, death and destruction, and true love trying to grow in the most inhospitable of places, "Pearl Harbor" falls short because scriptwriter Randall Wallace ("Braveheart") seems reluctant to trim anything from his hackneyed script.

My heart sank as the movie opened with two young farm boys dreaming of flying planes. Those two boys grow up to be "pretty boy" Rafe (Ben Affleck) and his scruffy best bud, Danny (Josh Hartnett), who enlist in 1940 to pursue their shared dream.

But their dream doesn't come true without some angst and dramatic speeches. Rafe, it seems, is a "slow reader," and may wash out of flight school. He ends up volunteering to serve in the British RAF, fighting the Nazis. Danny — as well as comely nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) — are shocked at his decision and both must come to terms with their feelings for each other. Evelyn and Danny are assigned to Pearl Harbor, where they keep up with what may or may not be happening to Rafe through newsreels. Then the inevitable happens. Danny and Evelyn find comfort and consolation in each other's arms.

That's the problem with "Pearl Harbor" — all the human drama is told in movie shorthand. Consequently, none of it rings true. Bay, who directs as if in the throes of adult-onset attention-deficit disorder, never lets us into the emotions or the consequences. It's as if Bay knows how hackneyed his love story is, so he has to keep us jumping from scene to scene until he finally gets to drop the bombs. Even what should be the big emotional showdown between the trio is rushed, stripping it of any emotional impact.

The three leads are appealing on their own, but they aren't believable. None of the three shows even the slightest initiative to try to create a unique character. Beckinsale, who's too chilly an onscreen presence for my tastes, never connects with the audience.

For those looking for a little historical perspective, "Pearl Harbor" offers up a subplot about the racial divide in the military and America at the time. Although the trailers seem to indicate that Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a prominent role in the movie, he doesn't. Yet, he does play one of the attack's true heroes — ship's cook Dorrie Miller, credited with saving his crewmates on the U.S.S. West Virginia that fateful morning by rushing to an anti-aircraft gun and firing back at the Japanese. He gets short shrift — though he makes the most of it — taking up about five of the movie's 183 minutes. The other "real" character to find his way into the movie is James Dolittle (Alec Baldwin), whose "Dolittle Raider's" attack on Tokyo brings this bloated epic to a close.

I so wanted "Pearl Harbor" to be wonderful. But it isn't. However, it probably won't make any difference. Superbly marketed — even to the point of editing and cutting out insensitive slurs and comments for the movie's release in both Japan and Germany — "Pearl Harbor" will still be the movie to beat this summer because of the bombing sequences. An entertaining movie if not a good movie, "Pearl Harbor" shines when it's making war, not love.

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