Thursday, July 5, 2007

Transformers (2007)

Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, John Rogers
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson

Color, 144 minutes
Rated PG-13

Grade: C+

Michael Bay has been polluting the cinematic world for well over a decade now. His films have gone from bad (Bad Boys) to worse (The Island), and he’s established himself as a sort of modern day Edward D. Wood Jr., albeit one with far more money in his wallet, and far less passion in his heart. But Bay may have found his niche. His latest, and greatest, hack-attack is Transformers, arguably the longest and most stylish car commercial ever committed to celluloid, based on the (somehow) extremely popular toy line. Transformers is a film for the children of the 1980’s. It’s a veritable love letter to all of those who don’t want to grow up, who want to be Toys “R” Us kids forever, and on that level, the film succeeds. For everyone else, though, the film is a chore.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is your average teenager. He’s anything but popular, he’s desperately saving up for his first car, and he has a crush on local hottie, Mikaela (Megan Fox). His parents (played wonderfully by Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are obviously well to do, but they are trying to teach Sam the value of a dollar. He has to raise $2,000 for a car, and, if he does so, his Dad will match him dollar for dollar. Because he apparently doesn’t have a job, Sam has resorted to selling some of the artifacts left over from his great-great-grandfather’s days as a famous explorer. What Sam doesn’t know however, is that his grandpappy’s spectacles have been etched with the coordinates of the “Allspark,” a giant cube that a bunch of alien robots are desperately trying to find. Oblivious to the fact that the fate of the world lies in his hands, Sam is finally able to get himself a car: a rusted out canary yellow Z-28. There’s something wrong, though, and Sam’s car starts acting kind of funky. It runs though, and it gets him where he wants to go, notably a lame party near a lake where Sam tries his damnedest to impress Mikaela. Her jock boyfriend gets in the way and Sam retreats. Mikaela, pissed at her boyfriend for being a jerk, hits the road and begins the long walk home. All of a sudden, Sam’s Camaro starts blasting out The Cars’ “Drive” (nice touch), and the young man seizes his chance. He persuades Mikaela to get in the car, and slowly, the mismatched pair begins the long process of falling in love.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a US military base is under attack by vehicles gone haywire. A helicopter transforms into a giant robot and lays waste to everything in sight. The few remaining survivors, led by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, manage to flee the area, only to find their lives threatened by a massive mechanical scorpion. The Pentagon gets word of this and the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight, pretty much parodying himself) has resorted to some extreme measures: hiring a bunch of amateur techno-freaks to figure out just what kind of force they’re up against. In the middle of all this deliberation, a boom box on Air Force One turns into an annoying spider looking thing that hacks through the defense network, and locates the whereabouts of Sam and his antique spectacles. Then all hell breaks loose. A rogue police car stalks and attacks Sam in a parking garage. What looks like the end for Sam turns into a day of discovery when his Camaro transforms into Bumblebee, a gentle but strong robot who communicates through his radio. Bumblebee saves Sam’s life, and then sends out a beacon (kind of like the Bat-Signal that Commissioner Gordon uses) to his fellow Autobots (good guys), led by the incredibly boring Peterbilt truck, Optimus Prime. With the Autobots’ help, Sam must retrieve the spectacles and find the Allspark before the Decepticons (bad guys), ran by the evil Megatron (voiced quite unintelligibly by Hugo Weaving), beat them to the punch.

Yeah, there’s quite a bit of plot for a movie based on a bunch of action figures, but it’s all in vain. After an enjoyable first half, the film disintegrates into nothing more than scenes of robots blowing shit up. The special effects are great and all, but there is nothing under the surface, and there sure as hell isn’t more than meets the eye to these robots. Can you really care about a bunch of machines that are practically indistinguishable from each other? Children probably will, and most of them will love this film, but adults will have their fill and start to yawn. The bulk of the cast does nothing to help matters, and most of them are nothing short of horrible. Megan Fox is your typical window dressing and eye candy; she’s nice on the eyes, but hell on the ears. Duhamel and Gibson are pretty boys that are in good shape, and they’ll most likely please some of the female crowd. Voight is one note, as he has been since the late ’70’s, and John Turturro shows up to prove that he can act badly too. The dialogue, courtesy of writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, famous for their work with J.J. Abrams (another hack of all trades) is as infantile as you would expect, and Bay’s direction is as flashy (and useless) as usual. But to his credit, this is the right material for him. As much as I could (and should) dog on this film, I’m going to let quite a bit slide, it is about giant alien robots after all. No, Bay still has no sense of pacing or suspense (one would think that Co-Producer Steven Spielberg could have helped out in that department), but he knows exactly how to utilize slow motion, and there was, at least, one time when I muttered to myself, under my breath of course, the word “Sweet.” Heretical, I know, but I couldn’t help it.

When you really get down to it, though, there is one reason, and one reason only, to sit through this film: Shia LaBeouf. The kid is fantastic, and his scenes in the beginning of the film have an almost domestic comedy feel to them that is extremely enjoyable. Remember Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti and Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? That’s LaBouf here. He is the perfect audience surrogate, bringing to mind, not only Dreyfuss, but also Jack Lemmon, Tom Hanks, and even Jimmy Stewart. He has a wide-eyed sense of wonder and curiosity that’s perfect for his role, but he’s also quick-witted, charming, intelligent, and natural. Now, I’m certainly not going to complain about the fact that Megan Fox knows exactly the right moments to arch her back and stick out her ass, but girls like her are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. Talent like LaBeouf is extremely rare. If you’re going to see this film, see it for him.

There are other problems: The focus on Chevy emblems is hard to swallow (although a transforming Mountain Dew vending machine is possibly the most clever product placement since Spielberg used Reese’s Pieces in E.T.), and a distasteful image of Megatron, in jet form, cutting a building in half brings back painful memories of 9/11. But most should be forgiven here, I mean, let’s face it; the Transformers toys and cartoons were dumb when I was a kid, you can’t really expect the movie to be much better. This is a movie made for juveniles, by juveniles, nothing more. Try to keep that in the back of your mind while keeping your eyes on LaBeouf, and you might have a decent enough time, just don’t try and justify it to yourself.


H. Stewart said...

LaBeouf is on track to be the next Joseph Gordon-Levitt, if only he'd stop making bunk like this and Disturbia. (Good interview with him here.)

C+ isn't bad, just about what I'd expect from a Michael Bay Transformers. I heard the first half plays out like a John Hughes comedy. All the product placement sounds unbearable, though.

But, hey, why the hate for JJ Abrams? He's not a genius or anything, but isn't he largely responsible for Lost? And Mission Impossible III was perfectly enjoyable in a Spiderman 3 kind of way...

Anonymous said...

Your comments on Megan Fox (which remained brief, thank you) could not have been more on point.
I could not agree more. While she obviously fulfilled every man's dream about the perfect woman, though I suspect that most females who remained half dressed through out a movie could get the same reaction, it was laughable as she seemed to collect her story lines between explosions and being arrested by the nameless government officials. While I sympathize with the intention (a character like her had to be in the movie somewhere,) you cannot tell me that it is that difficult to find someone that looks like her and can act. (She doesn't need an award, just the basics would be fine)
Hey, I would have done the part and I guarantee I would have accepted a fraction of the pay as Megan Mid-drift.
Bottom line: Your comment:
'Megan Fox is your typical window dressing and eye candy; she’s nice on the eyes, but hell on the ears.' was brilliant and hilarious. I might frame it and put it up somewhere.

Clayton L. White said...

Well, thank you very much. Fox is a one note, no talent pretty face. To call her an actress would be doing a disservice to all the young women out there who are giving good and worthwhile performances. But, let's face it, she was cast for her good looks, and she will get many more roles because of those assets. Unfortunately.

Clayton L. White said...

In response to Henry's comment:

I actually did enjoy the first half of the film, and I laughed quite a bit throughout it, but I guess they had to have the robots fight sooner or later.

No disrespect to Lost fans, but the show has been declining for a while now, and MI:III wasn't that enjoyable. And let's not forget that Abrams was responsible for Alias and Felicity as well.