“The Core” leaves you wishing for the end

I should come right out and say that I missed the first few minutes of “The Core,” because seeing the film was a last minute decision.

The first scene that I had the privilege of witnessing involved two science professors examining some dead bodies at a U.S. Air Force base in Chicago. Apparently all of the deceased dropped dead at the exact same second in the middle of a quiet suburb. The military had feared a chemical weapons attack, but the professors wisely deduce that all of the deceased shared one attribute: they had pacemakers. A decorated general breathes a sigh of relief at the professor’s report; it wasn’t chemical weaponry, it was just a huge anomaly in the electromagnetic field, caused by the inertia of the Earth’s core.

I’m not making this up. That’s the kind of movie this is. If you go to see “The Core,” be aware that you’ve signed up for a 130-minute celebration of stupidity. If you can suspend your inclination toward rational thought and ignore the fundamental rules of science that we were all taught in grammar school, then you will have a great time.

A lot of crazy stuff happens in “The Core,” including a man being killed by a molten pebble, a flock of birds going haywire (because of the core, that is) and the melting of San Francisco.

The impressive cast is made up of respected character actors and Oscar-winners including Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Aaron Eckhardt and Bruce Davison. They are required to deliver lines like “Don’t you know who I am?” and “Try to imagine that this peach is the earth” with a straight face. They get paid a lot to do so; apparently serious actors need to eat too. They play a ragtag group of scientists and NASA pilots who are assigned by the U.S. military to burrow a shuttle deep into the surface of the earth and detonate a series of nuclear warheads in order to ‘jumpstart’ the Earth. (This makes about as much sense as sending an electrician out into space to see if the Earth is still plugged-in).

Some of our no-holds-barred driller/scientist/heroes die brutal deaths inside the earth’s core, while others live on in order to make out with a fellow passenger. (You will know who survives within the first 20 minutes of the movie). Tucci is especially funny; he deliberately chews the scenery throughout. Swank is okay, I guess, but her character (a rookie pilot who is almost too good) is lame and contrived, or more contrived than I expected.

Then there is D.J. Qualls; you might remember him from “Road Trip” and “The New Guy,” and he has effectively announced his arrival as our big-screen Screech Powers. He serves no purpose in this movie that I can determine; he’s just the mandatory computer-nerd character that has appeared in every action movie since “The Matrix.” His big line: “You’re saying you want me to hack the planet?” (Cue gasps from audience). Since everyone in the audience presumably knows less about computers than the makers of this movie, it would be entirely possible to use the computer geek as a device to get our heroes out of any seemingly impossible jam.

If every D.J. Qualls scene was cut and the screenwriting was a little more taut and inventive, “The Core” would be a breeze to sit though, and it would easily trump forgettable disaster movies like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact;” instead, it seems content to rest alongside them.