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updated: 7/11/2013 6:31 AM

Humans match machines for robotic personalities in noisy 'Rim'

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  • Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) prepare to take on the aliens in "Pacific Rim."

    Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) prepare to take on the aliens in "Pacific Rim."

  • Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) gets a new psychic co-pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) in Guillermo del Toro's effects-stuffed sci-fi thriller "Pacific Rim."

    Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) gets a new psychic co-pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) in Guillermo del Toro's effects-stuffed sci-fi thriller "Pacific Rim."

  • Video: "Pacific Rim" trailer


Fantasy/horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro got his wish for "Pacific Rim." He wanted to make it for the 10-year-olds in all of us.

You know, the 10-year-olds who don't care about intelligent dialogue and characters with personalities or emotional depth.

The 10-year-olds who just want to see computer-generated scenes of mass destruction and giant space monsters vomiting acid on gargantuan robots operated by human co-pilots while linked together in a psychic connection called "the drift."

Del Toro clearly intended the $180 million "Pacific Rim" to be a nostalgic throwback to the simpler creature features of his youth, Japan's infamous "Godzilla," perhaps, or more accurately "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" that pits a giant robot lizard against a giant organic lizard.

As del Toro celebrates the superbly detailed designs of the robots (inspired by Japanese manga and anime artwork from graphic novels and films), the suspense-challenged "Pacific Rim" squanders its rich science-fiction potential by allowing provocative ideas to be replaced by clinky, clanky, nonstop scenes of crass and confusing battles that smack our retinas around, pound our ear drums and numb our senses.

(Chicago film critics Tuesday night had the misfortune of seeing "Pacific Rim" on an IMAX screen that made the lightning-cut action sequences so big and overwhelming that they frequently disintegrated into huge, incomprehensible blurs.)

This movie will no doubt prompt comparisons to a "Power Rangers" episode or the next installment in Michael Bay's overwrought "Transformers" franchise.

After a droning narrator issues an interminably lengthy voice-over history of the world in 2020 (we don't get to the title card "Pacific Rim" until 15 minutes into the movie), the tale quickly launches into its first action sequence.

Brothers Yancy and Raleigh (Diego Klattenhoff and Charlie Hunnam) operate a Jaegar robot named Gipsy Danger, one of many Jaegars created to battle an invasion of aliens called the Kaiju. They enter Earth through a dimensional porthole deep in the Pacific Rim.

One giant beastie, resembling a rejected creature design from a "Predator" sequel, attacks Gipsy Danger, killing Yancy and leaving Raleigh still psychically linked to his dead brother.

Five years later, Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, giving the robots a run for acting mechanical) tracks Raleigh down at his off-the-grid construction job and puts him back into his reconditioned Gipsy Danger, now with a new partner, Pentecost's alluring protégé Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).

Poor Raleigh objects.

"I can't have anyone else in my head!" he yelps, oblivious to the possibility that his shallow character may not have much else in there.

On their first attempt to enter "the drift," Mako freaks out, conjuring up a scary childhood memory of being menaced by a giant crustacean-like Kaiju, almost destroying her military headquarters with a robot weapon. (Given the number of Jaeger pilots who never obey any of Pentecost's orders, no wonder humans are losing the war.)

Del Toro's affection for this brand of sci-fi action can't be disputed. But he directs "Pacific Rim" with the misguided belief that emotionally disconnected characters donning oversized Iron Man costumes can carry a movie for more than two hours of never-ending battle sequences.

Del Toro's sense of humor bleeds through the mayhem here and there, with help from Charlie Day's comical research nerd who figures out how to mind-meld with one of the Kaiju's two brains; and from Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chou, a gaudy attired black market dealer who sells dead Kaiju body parts.

Yes, it's amusing when Raleigh's robot whips out an aircraft carrier to use as a club on a roaring beastie.

But if Raleigh's Jaeger has a blaster gun he uses on a Kaiju to make sure it's dead, why didn't he use the gun to shoot the monster in the first place?

Why doesn't he use the blaster on the next creature he confronts, since it worked so well on the other one?

This movie frequently forgets the science part of science fiction.

Catch my drift?

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