Saturday, July 14, 2007

Back in Action...

I broke down. I saw it. Actually, I was made to see it. After having subjected a friend to cinematic gems like Blood and Chocolate and Pathfinder, he finally sought his revenge with Michael Bay's newest indulgence, Transformers. Perhaps y cinematic expectations are entirely off kilter when it comes to the contemporary blockbuster. I prefer the absolute indulgence of a more Eighties fare of summer whoppers. I mean, a Transformers movie sounds like fertile ground for indulgence. Indulgence connotes pleasure yet there's precious little of that to be had in this heap of money and steel. I wonder, even, if Bay enjoyed the process of making the film, so slight are the moments with any sort of proud, paternal glimmer. Instead, the film trudges forth at a bewildering pace with a must get from a-b never sense of purpose (as opposed to a devil-may-care which might have made it worth while) never quite lingering long enough on any given sequence to question, 'wait, what are they doing in this Iraq-esque landscape?' Shhh.... Cue explosions.

But these are not the fun explosions of a gleefully maniacal action extravaganza (read Live Free or Die Hard). They are as calculated and by the book as everything else the movie puts on offer. A shot locates our robot friends on the Griffith Park Observatory made famous in Ray's Rebel Without A Cause. The camera swirls back, drunken and patriotic, but the image it captures is just as leaden as the creatures that compose it. New Yorker critic, Anthony Lane, applauded Bay for his first depiction of honesty in film. To him, Bay finally found a, ahem, vehicle to celebrate his prevalent misanthropy. His own form of Neorealism, I suppose. But misanthropists can still evoke a sensational spectacle and the thing that this film most urgently lacks is thrills. Our robots are so generated and fast paced that we don't have the time to gasp with concern for their perrills - we're to busy trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Sensation, too seems a moot point. The film knows its audience well and carts every expected moment in to placate, not once trying to fulfill. "The fans want this; we'll make it happen." not "We'll make them like it." Characterization seems to have been completely lost on Bay. At no point can you ever really tell which robot is good (Autobots) or bad (Decepticons). Their leaders being of no help. I can only figure that the main baddie, Megatron, is nasty because of his gnashy teeth. Optimus Prime is good because of his patriotic colors and calm cadence. Neither betrays any personal flair, but then, they're trucks. Or truck-like at least.

Which brings us to the humans. This was the first performance I have seen by it boy Shia LaBeouf. I can't say I'm impressed. With the physical grace of a bit-player, he seemed nourished on the same fruit which brought the emasculated neurotic of Die Hard, Justin Long, barely out of puberty. Here it is less endearing and more mean - ridiculing all boys who cherish the tap tap tap of the computer keyboard.

All of the women seem to have just gotten off of their shift at Hooters. The nicest casting touch was certainly the buxom Australian computer expert who looked like she would trip over anything containing more than three syllables (and not in the exciting way that Denise Richards embraced her turn as nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough).

But it's okay, cause she's got her fat, loud-mouthed, mama's boy, black sidekick with her. He, like Bernie Mac a few scenes prior, lumbers about barking unintelligible (read, black) utterances which are meant to make the audience laugh. At my screening, to my great dismay, it worked. The mean robots speak a a language translated in subtitles which resemble eastern characters; our good "guys" talk American. Call me mean, or call it racist, metal porn. There's a big elephant in this room, only it can't merely shift into a complacent little beemer and zip away. No, much like Bay, this one's here stay.


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