June 04, 2001 12:00 PM

Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alec Baldwin

Bloated and boring, Pearl Harbor is a collection of war-movie clichés in search of an epic. Director Michael Bay (Armageddon and The Rock) allows this sappy romantic drama disguised as an action film to drag on for three finger-drumming hours. While the actual, extended battle scenes are technically dazzling—full of diving fighter bombers and exploding warships—the story and dialogue that surround and accompany them are as hackneyed as that of any daytime soap opera.

Pearl lollygags forever setting up a pre-Dec. 7,1941, love triangle among three fictional characters: Rafe (Affleck) and Danny (Hartnett), flyboys who grew up best buds in rural Tennessee, and Evelyn (Beckinsale, see p. 71), a military nurse. She falls in love with the cocky Rafe first, but he volunteers for service over in England and is reported dead. She then finds comfort in Danny’s arms when both men are stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. As they laze about on the beach, Evelyn asks, “Do you ever wonder if this war is going to catch up with us?” Cue the bombers.

Rafe returns, of course, just in time for the aerial attack that would spur America’s entry into WWII. He and Danny do what they can (“Just get me into a damn plane,” Rafe yells), but Pearl at least has the grace not to tamper with history, acknowledging that Japan’s surprise raid left 2,400 Americans dead and destroyed half of our Pacific fleet.

Affleck, strappingly handsome, comes across here as a movie star playing a movie star playing a character. Hartnett and Beckinsale fare better but only because they don’t have to be quite as noble in every single scene. Gooding, portraying “Dorie” Miller, a real-life Navy mess attendant who courageously manned an antiaircraft gun during the raid, is solid, but his character feels awkwardly wedged into the main story. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Bombs away!

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