Directed by The Rock's Michael Bay, Armageddon is yet another rock-'em, sock-'em flirting-with-disaster flick--an intergalactic Perils of Pauline in which our own dear planet is strapped to the railroad tracks. Instead of a freight train, there's an asteroid the size of Texas heading our way at 22,000 miles per hour; it should arrive in 18 days, give or take an eternity. And since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was the size of--oh, I don't know--Lubbock, Texas, this is clearly a job for...Bruce Willis, who is first spotted in the South China Sea whizzing golf balls at a group of environmental activists. He's Harry Stamper, wildcat oil-driller extraordinaire. As in Deep Impact, the authorities in Armageddon--led by Billy Bob Thornton's NASA chief, Dan Truman--have determined that the best way to knock the asteroid off its course is to detonate a nuclear device embedded in its core. And who better to implant that nuclear device than the man who, for 30 years, has been drilling holes in the third rock from the sun? To complete his mission, Stamper assembles a crew from The Dirty Dozen by way of Con Air. Call them The Oily Eight. (Or were there only seven?) And rest assured: These guys have, if not the right stuff, then the right-wing stuff. Far-right-wing stuff. Their chief demand, for example, is that, in exchange for saving the world, they will never have to pay taxes again--that and a return of the 8-track tape. (Not even the Unabomber called for a return of the 8-track tape.) "This movie's never been just about explosions," producer Jerry Bruckheimer has said. "It's about heroism and that can-do American attitude." But Bruckheimer's too modest. The movie's about much more than that. Over the opening credits, the NRA's Charlton Heston intones a warning: "It happened before. It'll happen again." And I thought, "Oh my God, Heston wants Reagan's old job." Armageddon epitomizes the boom-and-doom, action-traction style of filmmaking that arose during the Reagan-Bush years; and Bay, who's 34, may be just the man to carry the torch into the next millennium. Having graduated from television commercials and music videos (as if those weren't the same thing), Bay knows how to sell a shot: Break it up into a Cubist collage, edit it like it was a cartoon, lay on a pop-music track and never look back. What Bay doesn't know how to do--or perhaps he just doesn't want to do it--is build those shots into a sequence. Like a porno movie, Armageddon is a string of climaxes that climaxes in...another climax. Yet--and here's where I started looking around for the mark of the beast--the movie basically works. Combining Dr. Strangelove and Dr. Seuss, Bay and his scriptwriters hopscotch their way through what Deep Impact called an Extinction Level Event, as if to say, "Hey, it's not the end of the world." Directed by Mimi Leder, Deep Impact was billed as a woman's disaster flick. Armageddon is a man's-man's disaster flick, and yet the bonhomie of Armageddon is infinitely preferable to the malheur of Deep Impact. As I wrote about the latter, "What's the use of destroying the world if you're not going to have some fun doing it?"
Armageddon all but ODs on fun. It seems that Bay will do anything for a laugh or a cry or a jolt of terror. "It's basically the worst parts of the Bible," Thornton's NASA chief says to the president in explaining the death and destruction that will be caused by the asteroid. Is he kidding? Those are the best parts of the Bible. Armageddon has a really bad case of the implausibles, its special effects are cheesier than the ones in Independence Day, and it sure takes its sweet time saying "The End." But it knows how to do the apocalypso. Confronted with the end of the world of mega-budget Hollywood filmmaking, it blithely dances on its own grave.