Wednesday, May 27, 1998


Posted By on Wed, May 27, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Wonders never cease. In the original Godzilla, a giant lizard was created from the radioactive fallout of Hiroshima. While the film was almost pure camp, the message was clearly serious: Thanks, GI Joe ... for nothing.

Now we have a new Godzilla, the millennium version, overhyped and undercooked. As this is can-do America, never too keen on scientific hubris (see the Challenger disaster), someone else has to be the villain, and who better than the dastardly frogs conducting their nuclear tests in French Polynesia? With Russia drowning in a sea of red ink, perhaps France, masters of backstage skulduggery, can be our new evil empire.

But first let's deal with the dog at hand. Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (an always ineffectual Matthew Broderick) is called away from his pet project at Chernobyl (!), testing earthworms for radiation, to help the U.S. military deal with the monster making its way toward Manhattan, which, according to the knuckle-headed logic of the script, is the perfect place to hide out and lay its eggs. Meanwhile, a team of French special agents, masquerading as insurance appraisers (led by the always likable Jean Reno), try to bring down the monster in their bumbling way. Oy vey.

Creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, Hollywood's new golden boys of summer, realize their creative limitations and exploit instead their gifts for destruction. Godzilla comes alive, ever so briefly, when the military tries to kill the beast with firepower, but ends up laying waste to New York landmarks like the Chrysler Building. Even in these moments of tepid action, there's not enough monster and far too many digital effects that are now clichés.

You know things are bad when you start pining for Steven Spielberg. Yet in the second half of this atrocity, when raptor-like creatures, fresh out of their eggs, are scurrying around the interior of Madison Square Garden, Jurassic Park starts looking pretty good.

For a film that cost some $130 million, it seems as if all the money was gone halfway through the production. The film stock goes grainy and the computer animation regresses to third-rate Claymation. By the end credits, the thing looks like absolute crap.

The whole production is rife with strategic stupidity. Even a terminal mouthbreather in Suet City, Ark., will come away feeling like a Mensa scholar. No plot, no character development, no subplot. Independence Day at least made some inflections to the conventions of watchable cinema.

There are, however all kinds of tiresome nudges and winks toward pop culture fetishism, surely the most feeble dodge of them all. Roly-poly hothead Mayor Ebert (?) is attended by his Girl Friday, a weedy nebbish named Gene (!). Harry Shearer, who provides the voice of pompous newscaster Kent Brockman on "The Simpsons," plays ... a pompous newscaster.

Godzilla lays 200 eggs and they're all rotten. If this is any indication, it's going to be a long and stinky summer.

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