Reworking the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” genre in the form of an “Armageddon”-style disaster actioner, this almost-serious lark from director Jon Amiel (“Entrapment”) begins with the suspicions of a geophysicist (Eckhart) that various bizarre natural phenomena are the result of something very wrong below ground. Sure enough, it turns out the darn planetary core has stopped spinning, a situation that threatens global destruction by powering down Earth's magnetic field. Unless, that is, our hero and a group of mismatched scientists and astronauts can use an experimental subterranean vehicle (all ready to be built, handily enough) to set off a nuclear explosion near the core and hopefully make everything right again.
From speculative elements such as the laser-and-ultrasonic-beam-digging vehicle to a subplot in which a young hacker (D.J. Qualls from “The New Guy”) single-handedly controls the flow of information about the crisis over the entire Internet, “The Core” is only marginally easier to believe than '50s/'60s sci-fi opuses like the James Mason-starring version of “Journey”--any more ridiculous and it could play as a straight comedy. However, thanks to the occasional bit of disarming humor (often when “There's Something About Mary's” Richard Jenkins is around as the requisite hard-bitten general) and the enjoyment veteran scene-stealers like Tucci seem to get from their parts, surprisingly large chunks of it go down as good, silly fun. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D J Qualls, Richard Jenkins, Tchéky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood and Alfre Woodard. Directed by Jon Amiel. Written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers. Produced by David Foster, Cooper Layne and Sean Bailey. A Paramount release. Science fiction. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi life/death situations and brief strong language. Running time: 135 min