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'Godzilla': Dragon On & On

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 1998

  Movie Critic

    Manhattan falls prey to the giant monster in "Godzilla." Click here for Quicktime preview (TriStar)
Size vanquishes both substance and subtlety in the overhyped, half-cocked and humorless resurrection of dear old "Godzilla." It might well be titled "Iguana Get You Sucka."

Born in the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the movie monster originally known as "Gojira" personified atomic age anxiety for the Japanese and, in later subtitled versions, comic relief for Americans with a fondness for the creature feature's rubbery kitsch.

A lumbering, effects-driven remake of the 1954 release, the must-see movie of the season neither draws upon our fears nor revels in the original's camp charms. The picture really isn't about anything unless it is the deep pockets and shallow minds of the honchos who begat this colossal bore.

The large mutant lizard is an impressive sight, albeit one that's reminiscent of "Jurassic Park's" prehistoric menagerie, "Deep Space Nine's" scaly Cardassians and the viperous queens of the "Alien" series. They may be larger and more sinewy than Gojira, but lack the lardy '50s mutant's troubled soul.

Roland Emmerich
Matthew Broderick;
Jean Reno;
Hank Azaria;
Maria Pitillo;
Michael Lerner;
Harry Shearer
Running Time:
2 hours, 19 minutes
For mayhem
The screenplay by director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin ("Independence Day") begins with a lizard sighting off Tahiti, where the beast seems to have mistaken a boatload of Japanese fisherman for sushi. This, of course, is but a snack for Godzilla, whose quest for more seafood takes him across Panama, past the deep-sea fishing centers of Florida and Cape Hatteras to New York's East River, specialty: mobsters thermidor.

Familiar landmarks such as the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Madison Square Garden and the Met Life building are destroyed as the creature tramps through Gotham pursued by the U.S. military, the local police force, a cadre of scientists, the press and, oh yes, the French secret service. A monotonous series of window-shattering, street-clogging chases ensues.

Matthew Broderick is hardly a match for Godzilla in the role of a wimpy biologist who is called to the scene by his bosses at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Broderick, who is studying mutated earthworms in Chernobyl, spends much of the movie gazing up at the monster – who is atomically correct by the way – and stating the obvious: "We're looking at a completely incipient creature, the dawn of a new species, the first of its kind."

He is pursued by Maria Pitillo, an old college girlfriend who decides to lure the still-smitten scientist into advancing her television career. Other hackneyed characters are played by Hank Azaria, who joins the fray as her swaggering cameraman, "Animal," and Jean Reno, as zee American-coffee-hating head of the French contingent.

An Army colonel (Kevin Dunn) barks the wrong orders, while Mayor Ebert (Michael Lerner) fusses with his aide, Gene (Lorry Goldman), over how the events of the day will affect his upcoming campaign. This groveling jokey parody of Ebert and Siskel comes complete with thumb signals and is one of the filmmakers' rare, but lame, attempts at getting a laugh.

"Godzilla" is a joyless enterprise, in large part due to the pervasive gloom that accompanies the continuous rain. It's so bleak, the French are the good guys. But mostly, its sodden state derives from its shameless assault on the moviegoing public. This isn't art. It isn't even great trash. It's a con game, and we bear the claw marks.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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