When it was first announced that Touchstone Pictures was going to release an asteroid-doomsday flick just two months after Deep Impact's release, it seemed fitting. At last, the Hollywood machine had outsmarted itself with get-rich doomsday scenarios and opening-weekend blitz fanaticism. Well, stop the presses, 'cause Armageddon rocks.

Its first strength is a credible premise. Dinosaurs, those fabled objects of scientific fascination, were wiped off the Earth by a small meteor that agitated a thousand-year dust storm. So when NASA learns that a projectile the size of Texas has 18 days to touch down on home turf, the resulting panic is sensible. Should the asteroid hit the Atlantic Ocean, (a favorable scenario?) the resulting steam bath will decimate half the world's population, with the remainder sure to perish in an ensuing nuclear-type winter.

In haste, NASA, led by cool Dan Truman (played by the super-suave Billy Bob Thornton), hunts for the best oil driller on the planet, the hardy Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis, of course). With little convincing, Stamper and his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) take the 'copter to Texas where Stamper is briefed by Truman. To Harry's dismay, the nation's smartest people only have him in mind to save the day. So Harry assembles "the wrong stuff," a crew of 11 motley drillers to blow the thing into pieces by nuking it in outer space.

Director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer envision the race to save the Earth as a battle between men, and hence, there lies Armageddon's second boon: the cast. Ben Affleck and Willis aside, the mission's side squabbles couldn't be better acted with the likes of Thornton and mack daddy Keith David playing NASA and government heavies respectively. This is top-notch mugging. Let's not forget wise-ass Steve Buscemi as a driller with ample one-liners.

And of course, the special effects are dazzling. In this age of CGI, there aren't many surprises, but the filmmakers push the limit with chaotic scenarios that illuminate man in all of his absurdity. It's a harrowing fiction, but worth the trip.

The only drawback to all this bombast is Bay's overwrought cock-rock lyricism -- perhaps best conveyed by the actual lyrics of Aerosmith in a couple of heroic sequences. Hey, Liv Tyler ain't in this for nothin'.

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