Thirty-five minutes of spectacle bracketed by 90 minutes of wartime-romance cliches and a cynical attempt to get some rah-rah into a story that's otherwise one hell of a downer by ending not on the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but with the first US retaliatory strike against Japan. Clearly, neither screenwriter Randall Wallace nor director Michael Bay ever met a cliche he didn't embrace: The film abounds with green recruits who remind seasoned officers of themselves as youngsters, dying men asking if they're going to make it, and wee dogs escaping what appears to be certain death. Like the epic TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970), it works up slowly to the Japanese attack on American battleships, but it's less concerned with the minutia of military and diplomatic machinations and mistakes than the romantic travails of attractive young people whose petty problems truly don't amount to a hill of beans. Tennessee, 1923: Feisty country lads Danny and Rafe, son of a crop-duster, dream of flying and swear eternal friendship. Eighteen years later, Rafe (Ben Affleck) has matured into an effortless charmer and earned his wings with the U.S. Army Air Corps. But while Europe is already at war, the US remains neutral, so Rafe volunteers for England's Eagle Squadron, which accepts foreign pilots. He leaves behind Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), the Navy nurse he loves, and fellow pilot Danny (Josh Hartnett), both of whom are shipped off to cushy berths in Hawaii. Circumstances conspire to spawn a classic romantic triangle in which no one's the bad guy, played out against the bloody events of December 7, 1941. This is Hollywood history at its glossiest, and while Bay's film is consistently visually engaging, Rafe, Danny and Evelyn are never more than one-dimensional and they're the fleshed-out characters. Forget even trying to differentiate between the various military muckety-mucks (American and Japanese), nurses and fresh-faced cannon fodder Cuba Gooding Jr. has what amounts to a cameo role as real-life Mess Attendant Dorie Miller, who reacted to chaos with uncommon valor. Bay's tendency to tooth-rattling sound mixes is indulged throughout, but his love of shamelessly heart-tugging montages doesn't really kick in until the moments immediately preceding the attack: small boys play baseball, a housewife hangs out laundry and, most egregiously, three beautiful little girls wearing homemade angel wings frolic in the woods as the whining Japanese planes darken the sky.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Thirty-five minutes of spectacle bracketed by 90 minutes of wartime-romance cliches and a cynical attempt to get some rah-rah into a story that's otherwise one hell of a downer by ending not on the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but with the firs… (more)