Dir: Jon Amiel. US. 2003. 136 mins.

This end-of-the-world action opus is an efficiently executed but unexceptional popcorn flick, which will fail by a long way to produce the big box office numbers its studio maker Paramount Pictures designed it to. The Core's biggest problem is that it falls squarely in the dead space between high-camp B-movie flick and deadly serious thriller. Audiences might have responded more warmly to an undiluted attempt at the former variety a la Independence Day than to a film which also contains the pseudo-serious pretensions of the latter. Arriving on US screens, it could only muster a $12.4m opening which compares feebly with openings from previous disaster movies like Independence Day itself ($50.2m), Armageddon ($36.1m) and Deep Impact ($41.2m). International audiences will likewise fail to treat it as a must-see event film: its day-and-date UK opening could only generate $914,166 from 395 sites.

Essential to the hype of a high concept like this in the past has been eye-popping spectacle such as the destruction of the White House (the trailer for ID4) or the tidal wave engulfing the Eastern Coast of the US (the spots for Deep Impact). The Core trailer does feature the demolition of the Colisseum in Rome and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but landmark-smashing has been done to death in other films and has an ugly ring of truth to it in a post-September 11 world.

Alternatively, as in the case of Armageddon, the casting of a reliable major star in the lead role helps to build want-to-see. In The Core, there is no major star - just Aaron Eckhart who, while handsome and charismatic, remains the intense actor throughout without resorting to essential scenery-chewing heroics in the style of Bruce Willis. In the run-up to its release, The Core has not felt unmissable, just like old hat.

With plot and characters which might have been generated on a how-to-make-a-disaster-movie computer programme, The Core could have been a turkey for the studio, when in fact, thanks to taut direction by Jon Amiel and the brave efforts of the capable ensemble, it fulfils its ambitions to entertain, thereby assuring a long life on TV, video, DVD and the internet.

The Earth's core has suddenly stopped rotating and consequently the magnetic field surrounding the earth's atmosphere is coming unstuck, causing the crash-landing of the Space Shuttle in the LA River, the mysterious deaths of people with pacemakers and - most shocking of all - the descent into Hitchcockian craziness of a flock of pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

The US government takes charge (of course) and assembles a team of 'terranauts' to journey to the centre of the earth in a vehicle designed to destroy everything in its path with lasers. They are college professors Dr Josh Keyes (Eckhart) and Dr Serge Levesque (Karyo), shuttle pilots Commander Bob Iverson (Greenwood) and Major 'Beck' Childs (Swank), the machine's creator Ed Brazzleton aka 'Braz' (Lindo) and swaggeringly egotistical scientific genius Dr Conrad Zimsky (Tucci).

The journey of course is a long one, fraught with unforeseen dangers and the loss of several crew members but thanks to the initiative of Keyes and the sheer brass of Childs, the mission stays on course and reaches the core where it plans to deposit five nuclear warheads to jolt the core back into motion.

A subplot in which the audience find out that the US government caused the core's instability in the first place by using a new weapons system called DESTINI contains real-life lessons which could be more relevant than the studio originally anticipated when it greenlit the picture. Released in a time of global insecurity, the hokum at the core of The Core can be viewed in a more disturbingly realistic light, a factor which could also affect its box office revenues.

Amiel keeps the action moving fast, skips over the lapses in credibility and creates as much suspense as is possible in such a nutty concept. More of the camp which is mercifully whipped up by Tucci's amusing turn as Zimsky could have helped heighten the fun.

Prod cos: Paramount Pictures
Worldwide dist: Paramount/UIP
Prods: David Foster, Cooper Layne, Sean Bailey. Scr Layne, John Rogers
Cinematography: John Lindley
Prod des: Philip Harrison
Ed: Terry Rawlings
Music: Christopher Young
Main cast: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, DJ Qualls, Richard Jenkins, Tcheky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood, Alfre Woodard