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'The Core' about shock, not intellect

THE CORE — ** 1/2 — Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, DJ Qualls, Tcheky Karyo, Alfre Woodard, Bruce Greenwood, Richard Jenkins; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, brief gore); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.

The moon may not be made of cheese, but "The Core" sure is.

This effects-heavy science-fiction/action movie plays out more like an unholy union between Irwin Allen and Jerry Bruckheimer than it does a modern-day version of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," which is supposedly its inspiration.

Still, as far as disaster movies are concerned, this one isn't a complete disaster. At least it accepts its cheesiness and tries to revel in it, which is a whole lot more than you can say of the majority of such films.

It does come from the bigger-dumber-louder school of filmmaking, however, which stresses action over comprehensibility. And most of the film's pseudo-science doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (Don't try to think about it too much; your head may explode from all the scientific hoo-ha.)

Oddly, the cast is made up of actors who are normally found in independent, character-driven films, led by former Utahn Aaron Eckhart, as Joshua Keyes, a geomagnetism expert who discovers the Earth may have less than a year to "live."

Keyes has found evidence that the Earth's core — the source of the all-important electromagnetic field — may have come to a halt, which would explain a series of weird incidents in major cities, including the sudden deaths of people in Boston who wear pacemakers.

But he has a hard time convincing anyone, even Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), a "superstar" scientist who should probably know better.

When Keyes finally does convince the right people, he finds there are few solutions to the problem — save an untested vehicle designed by one of Zimsky's rivals (Delroy Lindo). In it, these "terranauts" — including two NASA astronauts (Bruce Greenwood and Hilary Swank) — hope to tunnel to the center of the Earth and explode five nuclear devices to "jump-start" the core.

Surprisingly, the digital special effects, which were beefed up at the studio's behest, still look chintzy in places. But the story does make good use of some recognizable Utah locations, including Wendover and the Salt Flats.

The script is filled with wisecracks, but it reduces a good cast to playing cardboard characters, although the ingratiating charms of Swank and Lindo help. (And in one of the film's better moments, Tucci's character even acknowledges how ridiculous it all is.)

"The Core" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), brief gore. Running time: 135 minutes.