Thursday, June 19, 2008

REVIEW: The Island

Congratulations, Michael Bay. You got a guy from NBC-TV to call your movie "entertaining."
Hollywood isn’t out of ideas so much as it’s just figured out that spending big money on original movies isn’t worth it, and all you damn fan boys (and me) are to blame. Yes, you (and me). You’re the ones (as am I) that scour the internet for that first official image of The Joker in makeup, essentially giving Warner Bros. and The Dark Knight massive publicity for the cost of a Polaroid, 30 minutes of Heath Ledger’s time, and some smudged Halloween makeup. If Universal had a month earlier released the first shot of The Court Jester from their 100% original blockbuster The Sable Pikeman, you wouldn’t have given half a crap. Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t want to expand your mind; he wants you to buy a ticket, then buy the DVD because it at least makes use of your $2,000 sound system. Face it, if the movie has a name, the movie gets attention. When the Dukes of Hazzard movie comes out, you probably know it’s going to be bad, but you’re at least a little curious.

Oh my God. They've finally done it. They've remade Moonraker. Nooooo!

So why on God’s green Earth, if you’re going to remake something, would you choose to remake a 1979 low-budget stinker best known as a forgettable Mystery Science Theater episode?

Yes, the requisite scene where you've got a good guy and an identical-looking bad guy, and another guy has to figure out which one to shoot. Mind-bending.

That’s right, 2005’s The Island isn’t so groundbreaking as director Michael “Blunt Force Trauma” Bay and his trio of screenwriters would have you think. Before the whole thing turns into one big Surge commercial about 1/3 of the way in, it’s a ripoff of 1979’s would-be-shocker Parts: The Clonus Horror (yes, a non-porno movie from the ’70s called Parts). Both surround a peaceful community of naïve man/woman-children who are kindly cared for by smiling armed guards in an isolated facility. If they do something daring, the guards kindly tell them to get the hell back in line and don’t ask questions and have a nice day. If they’re really, really good, our curious uniformly-clad heroes and heroines will be taken from their current stress-free communal paradise to an even better stress-free communal paradise (“America” in the original, “The Island” in the 2005 film -- no word on whether the island in The Island comes equipped with bald men pushing buttons in hatches). However, our heroes (Ewan MacGregor and Scarlett Johansson in Bay’s version) are extra-curious and find out that they’re actually clones of rich people, living parallel lives so that they can be harvested for their 100%-compatible organs if the richies happen to need them. And judging by the number of people who seem to be headed to The Island, there must be quite an uptick in the debilitating injury rate for fabulously wealthy 25-30-year-olds in the near future. I guess there’ll always be Kennedys.

Oh yeah, there's nothing more terrifying than a middle-aged man with a cell phone... and glasses!

In both versions, the guy and the gal both go Logan’s Run and escape to the outside world beyond their isolated compound, where they have wacky interactions born of child-like ignorance about the real world, and get chased by corporate goons hired by the evil CEO of ComOrganTech (Sean Bean in the remake), who’s bent on stopping the horrifying secret from getting out. In The Island, the chief goon is mercenary Djimon Honsou; watch the movie knowing in advance that his character is eventually going to grow a conscience for no particular reason and turn into a good guy. I hope the families of the dutiful cops he kills throughout the movie are comforted to know that this guy actually has a heart of gold and will finish the movie holding hands and skipping down the meadow with the freed clones. Love it when movies do that. Remember: if you’re not quite as horrible as the evil CEO, you’re okay by us.

Get used to this angle. I'm pretty sure Michael Bay is two feet tall.

Many ultra-destructive chases through Los Angeles ensue, and since this is the future, Michael Bay throws in some halfway-to-Star Wars vehicles to liven things up, like a hover bike and a big truck that is hauling ginormous barbells (Perhaps LA has a football team once again in the future). By this point, you might as well just rename the film Destructive Chase Movie #527B, because there ain’t gonna be any philosophizing about genetic hooey anymore. You’ve got a manly man and a hottie who’ve got to run away, then come back and infiltrate the big facility and break the big device that powers the thing that they need to go down (and which has no redundancy system), and you’ve got various minor and major goons they’ve got to get through.

Red team has the flag!

Yeah, you know that unlike the original, which had an unhappy ending (entirely mitigated by your own personal happiness that the film ended), the remake will end with them freeing all the clones, but only after a final, surprisingly challenging fight with the sit-on-his-ass CEO on some kind of collapsing platform.

Damn potholes.

The Island’s pretty much summarized as 70% brain-dead popcorn action movie and 30% generic smart sci-fi movie, and I mean “smart” as what it thinks it is more so than what it accomplishes. I think Michael Bay felt the wet blanket of mortality drawing upon his empty life, so he decided he was going to make a smart, meaningful movie before he died. So he watch THX-1138 and A Clockwork Orange, then watched Parts: The Clonus Horror when Netflix sent him the wrong DVD instead of Barbarella, and decided that the producers of Parts would be less likely to cobble together a competent lawsuit after he rips their freaking movie off. It worked: he got sued, but made the type of movie that Entertainment Weekly and 12-year-olds with blogs would consider thought-provoking sci-fi. After all, it has a moral dilemma (even though nobody in the movie or the audience is remotely conflicted on moral grounds), an innovative premise (innovative in that it had minor story differences from both Parts and 2000’s also-stupid, but less self-absorbed The Sixth Day), and a whopping 40 minutes or so of dialogue and build-up before Michael Bay just couldn’t take any more and had to vomit loud music, crashing cars, and saturated colors all over the theater.

Tiiiime to start running!

The movie was too dark-toned and technically impressive to be sufficiently hammered by the critics, but it didn‘t do so well at the box office. I imagine Michael welcomed the opportunity to drop all pretentions of cleverness and timeliness with 2007’s Transformers, where he could just tell computer geeks to throw 1980’s toys around and be done with it. Screw originality: ker-SHPLAM! Du-du-du-du-PLOW! Bwam-bwam-CRACK! Mix in some funny black guy stereotypes, and everything‘s right in Bayworld again.

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