MOVIE REVIEW- Kicking bot: 'Transformer' comedy better than drama
Michael Bay has done it again! That's either good or bad news, depending on how you feel about his big, stupid action movies (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys I and II) that cost a lot to make and usually show a healthy profit– junk food at gourmet prices.
It's also good or bad news for Transformers fans, since this time Bay has done it to Transformers. The fanboys seemed to react enthusiastically at a preview screening before going home to complain on nitpick.com. They cheered everything from the Hasbro Toys logo to Peter Cullen's narration as Optimus Prime from the TV series to various familiar figures as they made their appearances.
For the uninitiated, Transformers are shape-shifting robotic figures– think Super Legos– who survived when life as they knew it on the planet Cybertron was destroyed. They've come to Earth in search of the Cube, or Allspark, the source of their life (or as Hitchcock would say, the McGuffin).
There are good Transformers, Prime's Autobots, and bad Transformers, the Decepticons, led by Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), with humanity caught in their crossfire. If the Autobots get the Allspark, everything will be okay; if the Decepticons get it, life on Earth will end. No pressure.
Of the human characters who get caught up in the battle, the most prominent is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), an 11th-grader whose first priority is getting a car; second is catching the eye of the unattainable Mikaela (Megan Fox). Sam's great-great-grandfather was an Arctic explorer who stumbled on a strange cube and inadvertently left a clue to its whereabouts that Sam is unknowingly trying to sell on eBay.
Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are straight out of sitcomland, making Transformers the funniest scicom since Third Rock from the Sun. The comedy begins with a cameo by Bernie Mac as used car salesman Bobby Bolivia and never quite reaches that level again.
More serious are the military men, Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson), who survive an attack by Decepticons on their base in Qatar involving a helicopter thought to have been shot down over Afghanistan, that transforms into a giant robot.
Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) tries to sort things out with the help of hot computer analyst Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor) and her hacker friend Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson). Finally there's Agent Simmons (John Turturro) and his men in black from super-secret government agency Sector 7. Simmons has what he calls a "Do what I want and get away with it" badge (obviously on loan from the President).
Sam's new 1976 Camaro turns out to be a Transformer named Bumblebee, transformed into a car with a mind of its own. It carries him to adventures most teenagers only dream of. The Autobots begin following him around like Mary's little lamb, creating some pretty ridiculous situations.
Even the Decepticons have a sense of humor in this movie. At one point, one becomes a police car with the motto, "To punish and enslave." Of course they can also give new meaning to the phrase "monster trucks."
The plot has its moments, the comedy more effective than the drama, but it's just an excuse to string together the action sequences. The Transformations are cool and well executed, but the battles, despite the awesome effects, are fast, chaotic and cluttered, shot so it's impossible to tell who's doing what to whom– or what's doing what to what. Bay is obviously inspired by animé and has made Transformers a live-action/CGI cartoon.
At least Transformers gives you something for your money, but as stories of young Earthlings resolving intergalactic conflicts go, I prefer a forgotten relic of the ‘80s, The Last Starfighter.
The Witwicky family motto is "No sacrifice, no victory!" I sacrificed two and a half hours of my life watching Transformers. What do I win?
Incidentally, I'm rarely surprised at coincidences that come out of Hollywood, where imitation is the sincerest form of creative poverty; but this week's big new releases License to Wed and Transformers both feature scenes of robots urinating on people. What are the odds?!!!