This is a perfectly awful movie on all but two big counts: absolutely riveting visual images and a zestful new concept of the all-American hero.
Millions of teenaged Americans wearing their baseball caps backward poured into the nation's multiplexes on the Fourth of July weekend for the super-hyped opening of "Independence Day." What awaited them was a spectacular video game set against a doomsday landscape, a movie that is exhilarating, boring, futuristic, old-fashioned, and undeniably inventive.
Three couples carry the burden of saving the planet from the extraterrestrials who loom overhead: President and Mrs. Thomas Whitmore (a slightly embarrassed Bill Pullman and a limpid Mary McDonnell); hot shot pilot Steve Hiller and his noble Jasmine (Will Smith and Viveca A. Fox); and a computer genius and his not-so-steadfast wife (Jeff Goldblum and Margaret Colin).
Since everybody ends up in one underground bunker, following the sub-plots is a cinch. The whole thing grinds to a halt at ground level and comes wildly to life in the air. The sky's the thing. Don't for a minute wonder why these human stick figures chat calmly among themselves while annihilation hangs above them. This is not a movie that can bear criticism.
But why be meanspirited? It's more fun to turn your own baseball cap around and join the crowd in a little wide-eyed pleasure. The arrival of a spaceship that has traveled 90 billion light years to destroy us is presaged by an enormous, creeping, hugely effective shadow. The ship itself, monstrously frightening in its silence, surpasses the terrible warning. We all know extraterrestrials travel in discs, but this one, covered in a repulsive reptilian skin, shadows and dwarfs New York just before destroying it in one humongous computer-generated catastrophe. The city disappears in a molten fireball. Then it's on to Washington and Los Angeles.
With the Statue of Liberty down, her face in a puddle, the collective gut cries, "That's it, don't mess with my symbols!" or, as gentle President Whitmore puts it, "Let's nuke the bastards!" Whipped into a froth of patriotism, we ride skyward on Captain Hiller's shoulder as he retaliates with the wrenching outrage of the all-American, gung-ho patriot.
Leading a task force spun from a spontaneous global love-in of the world's survivors, our hero soars into the belly of the beast, all missiles blazing. Will Smith's Captain Hiller, a wacky, wonderful, bigger-than-evil free spirit, grabs the movie from the deadly dull ground crew and wisecracks his way into the hearts of the audience. Nothing down here or out there will scare this guy.
This is a movie not about violence but about the fantasy of unity. Under threat of extinction, bickering couples and countries unite and deliver the best of themselves. The unabashed sentimentality of such a notion brings roars of approval from the audience. Perhaps it's a notion just right for our leaderless world--three straight-arrow patriots to save mankind.
This is a perfectly awful movie on all but two big counts: absolutely riveting visual images and a zestful new concept of the all-American hero. The name is Smith, please, not Schwarzenegger.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : 20th Century Fox
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h25m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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