Missing the mark

“Hey! This isn’t what the vacation brochure described!”

“Hey! This isn’t what the vacation brochure described!”

Rated 2.0

Parents, start warning your kids now: Stay away from the Bay! Don’t go into the Bay! The Bay reeks of self-indulgent behavior, pomposity and an annoying penchant for smoke!

After confusing the blazes out of your children, inform them that the Bay you speak of is not a body of water. The Bay you speak of is the out-of-control director who managed to screw up the summer’s most-hyped film, Pearl Harbor.

Say this for Michael Bay, director of The Rock and Armageddon: Possibly no director in cinema history, with the exception of Hitchcock, is easier to spot through trademark techniques and tendencies. While Hitchcock’s tendencies were stylistic calling cards marking a gifted director, Bay’s are distracting reminders of his television commercial days.

Slow motion, things that smoke, flags and drapes constantly blowing in your face and shameless product placements for Coke and Pepsi plague Pearl Harbor, a film that still manages some entertaining stretches despite having a person at the helm who seems determined to drive you crazy.

Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play two best friends who grow up to be fighter pilots. In the early stages of World War II, when our country is still mulling its involvement, Affleck’s slightly more macho pilot decides to join an elite flying force in Britain. Before leaving for England, he falls in love with a striking nurse (Kate Beckinsale), whose makeup is always perfect and who never seems to move unless someone has turned on the smoke machine.

Affleck’s character gets shot down during combat, the word gets back that he’s dead, and his best friend screws his girl on a parachute during their first date three months later. Affleck, who didn’t die after all, returns in primo As the World Turns fashion, and before he can kill Hartnett, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.

The buildup to the attack is a long, sometimes very painful proceeding. The payoff isn’t nearly enough to save the film, but it is quite impressive, thanks to a very good mix of real stunts and near-flawless CGI work. On the heels of The Mummy Returns, which featured some of the worst computer animation to date, Pearl Harbor features some of the more realistic graphics I’ve seen. This portion of the film gets a high rating.

It’s unfortunate that everything before and after the attack smells like rancid pork. Pearl Harbor is three freaking hours long, and the actual attack is only approximately 35 minutes. That’s a lot of time to fill, and the stale love story just doesn’t cut it. The movie wants to be Titanic, but it lacks the emotional potency and skilled story modulation that the big boat movie boasted. In short, Pearl Harbor lacks James Cameron and has Bay.

The performers, especially Affleck, manage to be somewhat likable in spite of what’s going on around them. Those who have seen Beckinsale before know what a capable actress she is, and her thankless role in this film, that of female wishbone for Affleck and Hartnett, is an insult to her talent.

Faring even worse is Hartnett, who, thanks to the sappy script, will probably wind up the year’s most hated character at the movies. He also becomes a laughably blatant Christ figure in one of the film’s final scenes. The only thing missing is his crown of thorns and a weeping Simon Peter (we get a weeping Ben Affleck instead).

Pearl Harbor would be two hours long if Bay would just take out the slow motion. It would be 45 minutes long if Bay took out everything we didn’t need to see. Admittedly, it is the best film Michael Bay has ever made. That is not a compliment.