Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Less Than Meets the Eye

Putting clunky political screeds in a summer blockbuster is like digging into your hot buttered popcorn and finding some sour, spoiled broccoli in your bucket. I don’t know what Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen director Michael Bay’s politics are and couldn’t care less, but he dumped a bad batch of Obama-bashing into his loud and obnoxious, but otherwise brainlessly entertaining sequel to Transformers.

Once again, Shia LeBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, owner of a sometimes-petulant Camaro/robot named Bumblebee. Sam’s heading off to college, leaving his smokin’ hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and his hilarious and hysterical mother Judy (Tony-winning goddess Julie White) behind. Of course, the centuries-old conflict between the Transformers and the not-so-vanquished Decepticons isn’t going to wait for his Ivy League education, and it turns out Sam has a Homer Simpson-like chunk of AllSpark (that transformative block of whatever it was) stuck to his jacket and the Transformers history tattooed on his brain.

Of course, although the story makes no sense, and people enter a museum in Virginia only to come out in the Pinal County desert in one scene, Bay has a comic secret weapon in Julie White, whose pot brownie-fueled freak-out is worth the ticket price. He also fills the movie with endless scenes of cool machines blowing up. LeBeouf is maturing nicely into an off-beat leading man (like a young Richard Dreyfus), and you’d have to be made of ice not to steam up when Megan Fox hits the screen, but other charismatic actors like Josh Duhamel are adrift in vacuous dialogue and unnecessary plot tangents.

Why oh why is John Benjamin Hickey even in this film except as an irritating distraction? He’s thrown into the mix as an effete, officious government dick who aggressively goes after the Autobots in the name of the president. In case you thought, “Oh, they must mean some fictitious movie president — now that Bush is gone, who’d be such an idiot? Transformers helpfully has Hickey spout idiocy about using “diplomacy,” not robots, before a news flash identifies the president specifically as Obama. It’s a cheap shot pandering to Red State mouth-breathers and Fox News lovers that is totally unnecessary.

Now, if Bay wants to get all political, why isn’t he tweaking the GM bailout or why the last administration let carmakers evade any substantial strides in electric vehicles or major fuel efficiency improvements over the last eight years? Wouldn’t a benevolent race of robots that look like American-made vehicles have some interest in keeping the human race from baking itself to death?

Although it has proven to be a box office blowout, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen falls flat.

UPDATE: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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