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Doing the Monster Mash

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 1998

  Movie Critic

    Manhattan falls prey to the giant monster in "Godzilla." Click here for Quicktime preview (TriStar)
In this corner, weighing in at 987,346 tons, in the scaly green boxing trunks: the world's largest lizard. In the other corner, tipping the scales at 145 pounds sopping wet . . . Matthew Broderick?

I don't think so.

In the genuinely scary and genuinely silly "Godzilla," the mutant reptile last spotted wreaking havoc on the streets of Tokyo is seriously under-matched by its human foes, including the U.S. Army, a SWAT team, a puny government biologist and the entire city of New York. What competition is he going to get from Broderick's antiheroic Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, a scrawny geek whose research on mutated earthworms in Chernobyl is cut short when more pressing mutations arise in Manhattan. (They even refer to him in the film as "the worm guy," which I suppose is one notch better than "worm boy.")

Even Philippe Roache (Jean Reno playing a swaggering French insurance investigator), is no match for the critter. Okay, so Reno out-machos Broderick, but he still looks (and sounds) like a Parisian pastry chef. Godzilla isn't so much destroyed as he is worn away by attrition and, at nearly 2 1/2 hours, that's a lot of attrition.

Roland Emmerich
Matthew Broderick;
Jean Reno;
Hank Azaria;
Maria Pitillo;
Michael Lerner;
Harry Shearer
Running Time:
2 hours, 19 minutes
For mayhem
So, with the Homo sapiens' side of the ring so ineffectual, who's the real hero of "Godzilla"? (Hint: The film lists five technical credits for "foamers" and "foam supervisor.")

The makers of "Godzilla" obviously devoted so much manpower and time and energy and money to the admittedly fabulous special effects that they apparently had no budget left over for actors.

The cut-rate cast seems to have been plucked from the pages of TV Guide. There's Doug Savant from "Melrose Place" as O'Neal, a scaredy-cat military man who looks like Sgt. Rock and acts like Barney Fife. There's Maria Pitillo ("House Rules") as Nick's soporific love interest, Audrey; "The Simpsons'" Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer as a wise-cracking news cameraman and superficial reporter; Vicki Lewis of "NewsRadio" as a lusty scientist. Shall I continue?

On to the story. Godzilla has swum all the way from Tahiti to the Big Apple because, Dr. Nick tells us, "It's the one island in all the world where he can hide." So how come this beast as big as the Flatiron Building can escape detection when the same five characters keep bumping into each other on every corner? Oh, never mind.

The over-long movie would be remedied immeasurably by the removal of the romantic side story involving Nick and Audrey-no one will pay attention to it anyway-but the lull does provide a convenient time for a trip to the rest room or a quick nap. It just makes the wait more excruciating for the return of the way-cool beastie, which walks on its hind legs like one of Spielberg's velociraptors and is as irritable as a Komodo dragon with a serious hangnail-only a thousand times bigger.

The question is this: Are the awe-inspiring creature effects and roaring battle scenes impressive enough to make you forget the stupid story, inaccurate science and basic implausibility?

Sure, why not? It worked for "Titanic."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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