This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Armageddon.”
The Movie: “Armageddon” (1998)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck
Director: Michael Bay
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) After discovering that an asteroid the size of Texas is going to impact Earth in less than a month, NASA recruits a misfit team of deep core drillers to save the planet.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39 percent
Brown: After a wordy and ultimately boring movie like “Be Cool” last week, I figured we needed to go back to basics here on the JOE-DOWN. Who needs words and plot when we can watch (REDACTED) get blow’d up?!
And who better to serve my lizard brain than Michael Bay.
Yes, the man whose first film as a child was him putting fireworks onto a toy train makes his debut in the JOE-DOWN with one of his more famous movies: “Armageddon.” Because it’s Bay (the five-time Razzie nominee and two-time winner), we know what we’re going to get: Explosions, tissue paper-thin plot, women being degraded by men and/or being sex objects and … more explosions. Did I mention this movie is also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer? We are in for some nonsense.
So, while I hit my head over and over on the table to mentally become Bay’s demographic — a teenage boy — how did you enjoy our first foray into Bay, Froemming?
Froemming: This was all I could think about in the first 20 minutes of this film.
Yes, Bay’s films are as deep as an empty pool. And that is why, for the most part, I hate his movies. But sometimes I, too, need a break from things and want to see things blow up. Thankfully, this film does not disappoint on that end. It does disappoint when it comes to logic, science and all that, which we will get into. But, Brown, let’s crank up the Aerosmith tunes (twice in a row we have Steven Tyler-related films here on the JOE-DOWN) and watch oil drillers become astronauts!
Brown: Oh, Bay’s love of fiery explosions begins after a brief history lesson about an asteroid killing the dinosaurs as we watch EARTH CATCH FIRE. And it never lets up from here.
Some astronauts are fixing the space station before a meteor showers kills everyone in the cold vacuum of space. Then in New York, after an insufferable Eddie Griffin playing a black caricature that is the norm in Bay movies, NYC feels the wrath of space as the city is decimated by meteors.
Basically, why have exposition when you can just blow stuff up from the get-go?
Froemming: This films just mocks the entire concept of having a script in general, because it is 90 percent fire.
We are then whisked away to an oil rig in an ocean, where we are introduced to Bruce Willis’ character Harry Stamper whacking golf balls at wimpy Green Peace protesters like a true American does. He soon finds his best employee, A.J. Frost (pre-Batman scowling Ben Affleck) has ignored his orders and causes a problem. He storms into A.J.’s room to find out the manager of Fashionable Male in “Mallrats” is sleeping with his daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler).
Because we need it hammered home at every moment, Harry is so tough that he literally shoots first and asks questions later, because he chases A.J. around the rig shooting at him with a shotgun.
Brown: I was just glad to see Liv Tyler had left Empire Records and got over her crush to Rex Manning.
Now, how terrible an idea is it to chase someone down with a shotgun on an oil rig where help is miles away? You’re dealing in international waters, folks. Every single one of those employees needs to leave that rig and file a lawsuit against Harry for endangering EVERYONE instead of being all “Aww shucks, that A.J. is a lot like you were, boss.”
Froemming: They won’t report him, because of the implication.
Brown: I’m not sure who is a bigger sociopath: Harry or Dennis Reynolds from “Always Sunny.”
Anyway, NASA determines there is world-killing asteroid the size of Texas coming toward Earth and they have 18 days before impact. And somehow, they determine that a nuke inside the asteroid will blow it up and save humanity. And of course, Harry is the top guy for the job of teaching NASA about drilling a hole 800 feet into the asteroid and dropping a nuke.
Look, I’m not a scientist, so I just ignored how plausible EVERYTHING is in this movie. Hell, let more informed folks talk about the BS in this movie.
Before we move on in plot, quick question: How hard was Willis phoning in the first act?
Froemming: Would you say that to Tom Petty? Sorry, Billy Bob Thornton is in this, and I had to drop that reference, because I fear it has been lost over the years, and it remains hilarious.
No, Willis is phoning this in. Which is odd, because I don’t remember him being in high demand at this point in the 1990s — he had the third “Die Hard” film and “Pulp Fiction” under his belt, and that was pretty much it.
But, Harry is surrounded by his crack crew that sort of makes up for Willis’ paint-drying performance.
Brown: In a mystifying plot point, Harry determines that NASA astronauts… pretty much literal geniuses … are incapable of knowing the “art” of drilling and determines that an oil rig crew — his oil rig crew — would be better served to learn how to be astronauts.
I mean, my god. Ben Affleck went so far as to call this out to Michael Bay only to have Bay tell him to “Shut the (REDACTED) up” (NSFW).
Froemming: Funny, because that was exactly what you told me when I questioned the explosions in space in this film. Could they have happened? Maybe, I’m not a scientist. But I can attest that there would have been no sound of explosions, because I remember enough from my 5 a.m. astronomy class in college to recall the teacher ruining science fiction films for me with that little nugget of wisdom. There is no sound in space folks. I have ruined “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” for you.
Brown: You didn’t ruin “Star Trek” for me. The inability to entertain me ruined “Star Trek.” HOT TAKE.
So because OIL RIGGERS ARE BECOMING ASTRONAUTS, they need a week to prepare for space, but not before making some outrageous claims to the government like finding out who really killed JFK and not paying taxes ever again.
The one part in this montage I had my biggest issue with was seeing all the guys take psychological tests (with Steve Buscemi’s character Rockhound providing the most entertainment). When they’re done, the psychologists said every one of them failed miserably, only for Truman (Thornton) saying as long as they can physically go to space, he’s passing them.
(Deep breath) THEN WHY HAVE THEM WASTE A DAY WITH PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTS! YOU HAVE EARTH HANGING IN THE BALANCE! DON’T WASTE TIME!
Froemming: This is the out of control government spending and waste that Trump is going to fix, pal. #Topical
Look, this whole montage was pointless. But remember, this is a Michael Bay movie that clocks in at 2 1/2 -hours. There was plenty of stupid scenes here. This was perhaps the most egregious of them.
Brown: Ready for me to praise this movie, folks? OK, here goes… there is so much stuff being thrown at you, it doesn’t feel like it’s a 2 1/2 -hour movie. It kills brain cells but it doesn’t let down a whole lot with the adrenaline and testosterone.
Speaking of killing brain cells, Harry demands that his guys get a day off (mind you, while standing in front of the American flag) so they can spend it with their families and/or unwind. In this, we see Rockhound get $100,000 from a loan shark to go to a strip club, we see Chick (Will Patton) meet his estranged son, to name a few.
And then, we get A.J. and Grace ruin animal crackers in maybe the most unsexy seduction scene I’ve come across in a movie. I’ll let you take the lead here, Froemming.
Froemming: This was the first time I had seen this movie. It was during this scene I felt, for the first time in my life, the urge to both bleach my eyeballs and ram coat hangers through my ears to escape what was unfolding before me. And we sat through an entire season of “Fuller House” for the JOE-DOWN.
No joke, it was here that I began to hope that A.J. would never return to Earth. They ruined animal crackers, man.
Brown: Also, A.J.’s theory doesn’t account for graham crackers. I just think he wanted to play with animals on his girlfriend’s navel. Adding to that, were you as creeped out as I was with Liv Tyler being in a seduction scene with HER DAD singing a song in the background? I know “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” became a monster hit, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling.
Final thing before we set off for space: Grace meets her dad at the Apollo I monument to A. promise to come home and B. tell her daddy she’s engaged to A.J. Way to keep shoving patriotism in our faces, Bay.
Froemming: Look, Aerosmith had already creepily sexualized their frontman’s daughter in music videos in the 90s, this was nowhere near as awful as that.
So now we see these very unqualified astronauts heading into space to save all life on Earth. And their plan is basically so insane and improbable (a slingshot maneuver is involved, like a cartoon) that I got angry watching this. But, hey, to quote George Costanza: “You wanna get nuts? Come on, LET’S GET NUTS!”
Brown: Well, at least Steve Buscemi is the voice of our reasoning in this movie. Here’s some of the choice cuts.
So our drillers, with a couple actual astronauts who ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING, get into space. First, they must get to the Russian space station to fuel up. Eventually, this space station blows up due to a fueling error and you know, being a Bay movie and all. Putin was probably a little miffed at seeing such a waste of money.
Froemming: We do get a mini-”Fargo” reunion here, because the Russian at the space station is played by Peter Stormare, who was Buscemi’s partner in crime in that film.
And yup, the space station blows up (with the sound of explosions that couldn’t happen). But hey, we have these guys heading toward an asteroid to land on, drill into, drop a nuke into and somehow fly away in enough time to not be affected by said nuke.
Somehow, those egghead nerds at NASA didn’t count on an asteroid having an asteroid field, which is a rookie mistake for anyone who has seen “Star Wars.”
Brown: Two things I thought of during the meteor storm the two ships (the Freedom and the Independent) have to fly through. A. This is like playing “Star Fox 64.” B. The line in an episode of “Futurama” where Zapp Brannigan takes control of a restaurant in space and proclaims it’s built like a steakhouse but it handles like a bistro.
Because flying through an asteroid field should mean death for all involved, we see the Independence crash while the Freedom suffers damage but somehow lands on our Texas-sized projectile. At least this whole sequence was thrilling (I was pretty uptight during the whole thing) so you don’t question how unfathomable it is.
Froemming: I was thrilled when I thought A.J. may have finally bitten the dust (I was still pretty angry about the animal crackers fiasco) only to find out he survived with the Russian and Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan). I did enjoy seeing him having to deal with the Russian being a backseat driver as they drive on an asteroid, which the logic alone…..
We find that Harry is having problems of his own, because they are having a tough time drilling into the asteroid (thanks a lot, NASA). All the while, the suits in Washington are getting trigger happy in wanting to set off the nuke, which I believe the government was Michael Bay’s avatar here, because we had gone almost 10 minutes without an explosion.
Brown: And all this leads to both the nuke being armed (so we’re on a timer) and a standoff with a gun. Because in a movie that has major cities destroyed, a chase on an oil rig with a shotgun, an erupting oil rig, a shuttle launch, two space stations blowing up and asteroid aversion, this movie also needs bomb defusal and a Mexican standoff.
Col. Sharp (William Fichtner) knows the bomb on the surface won’t do anything but he won’t go against the president’s orders on arming the nuke, so he holds a gun to Harry and Chick. But because Harry is a smooth-talking leader of men who KNOWS he’ll drill the required 800 feet in a fraction of the time it is supposed to take, they end up disarming the trigger.
Did I mention the time crunch they’re under? Eight hours from landing on the asteroid until it reaches “zero barrier” and Earth is essentially doomed regardless of any detonation.
Why have plot when the movie gives you no chance to breathe?
Froemming: Don’t forget, as this is going on, A.J. and the crew JUMPS A CANYON in their space dune buggy or whatever the hell that thing was.
Brown: Oh, you mean the Armadillo, which has modifications that are very essential, like a skull gear shift?
Froemming: The very same! We also have Paris taken out around this time, just because why the (REDACTED) not at this point. But hey, A.J. shows up right in time to get the drilling going again after a few setbacks. But time is not on their side, and they need to manually detonate the nuke. So, they draw straws to see who is the poor sucker to be stuck in a hole on an asteroid as a nuke goes off.
Brown: Before we get to that, I have to talk about the most implausible part of this movie filled with nothing but things that’d make Neil deGrasse Tyson’s head explode like the guy from “Scanners.” And that is when the group insinuates that the asteroid is not happy and starts ATTACKING THEM.
As A.J. nears the 800 feet they needed to drill, a bunch of sharp, deadly debris starts falling around them, eventually damaging the bomb’s trigger. They talk like the asteroid is a living, breathing entity. It’s so mind-numbingly stupid.
Froemming: Yes, let’s just continue on, because I must have been so angry at this point that I purposely blocked that whole thing out.
Back to the straws: I was thrilled when A.J. drew the short one (again, the animal crackers thing really rubbed me the wrong way) but I knew Harry was going to pull the old switcheroo on him. Because Harry will not let this little punk be the hero of the film. He did this out of spite, I just know it. So Harry has to set off the nuke.
Oh, we forgot to mention Buscemi starts suffering from “space dementia” which threw me into a rage. And he was the only fun character in this whole movie.
Brown: Oh, I was mad about Buscemi, too. They duct-tape him to a chair in the Freedom. So the best character in the movie was neutered. Maybe this is why Buscemi murdered so many people, to the point of wearing a person’s head as a hat, in “Con-Air.”
With three minutes to go, the Freedom gets off the asteroid and Harry is left to set off the nuke. But not before having a goodbye with Grace that takes AT LEAST three minutes. Earth is surely doomed because Harry is not succinct with his words.
But because Michael Bay, the bomb goes off with two seconds to spare and all the rubble MISSES Earth by 400 feet (I don’t want to count how many times I wrote BS in my notes for this one).
Something that irks me: We get this scene with Grace looking all downtrodden because she just lost her dad. That’s understandable, that’s a heartbreaking loss. But I thought it was selfish. Do you realize how many people in Paris lost a parent the same day, Grace?
Froemming: Well, it gets worse for Grace, because she ends up marrying A.J. and his irrational views on animal crackers.
Brown: I was happy to see Buscemi reunited with his stripper friend Molly Mounds. I hope they have all the babies. Literal line in this movie: “Oh baby, I wanna have babies with you.” Bay/Bruckheimer, folks! Is this where we mention that “Star Trek”/”Star Wars” savior JJ Abrams was one of the writers of this movie?
Froemming: No, this is where we hop on our Armadillos and head over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Maybe it’s the severe brain damage I likely sustained from this stupid movie, but I would recommend it. At its core, it’s a harmless ‘90s action movie. It’s a bad movie, but it’s at least entertaining. Way better than some Bay drivel like “Pearl Harbor” or any “Transformer” movie.
Froemming: Nope. This movie is pretty terrible. It doesn’t help that I am not a fan of Michael Bay. His movies feel like 2-hour-long truck commercials.