June 25, 2009

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13)
Shia LaBeouf teams up with his hot girlfriend, Optimus Prime and the other Autobots (again) to fight Megatron and the Decepticons (again) in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a sequel that just as easily could have been called Transformers: Again But Louder.

Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is headed off to college, leaving his girlfriend Mikeala (Megan Fox) and his car Bumblebee — and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White, and I give already, they’re fun). He’s eager to be a regular kid, not at all the guy helping the Autobots fight the Decepticons, both invading alien factions who can turn into cars, jet planes or other vehicles of awesomeness. But fate (Michael Bay) has other plans for him. The Decepticons are busy searching the Earth for something connected to, as Optimus Prime intones in a voiceover (which has the same timbre and rah-rah quality you’d expect in the narration for an ad for some kind of massive, ass-kicking pick-up truck), the long history the Decepticons have had on our planet. Naturally, just as our best and brightest young Army officer (Josh Duhamel) fighting the Decepticons with the Autobots is starting to sense trouble, some civilian wienerhead (John Benjamin Hickey) shows up to wave around a presidential order, disrespect the Autobots and generally muck things up.

Meanwhile — because coherent storytelling is for girls — Sam is having strange visions of Transformer symbols, he can’t seem to say to his girlfriend “I love you,” a piece of the life-giving All-Spark turns some of the Witwicky household appliances into dog-sized Decepticons, his college roommate is a conspiracy nut, Decepticons are planning to destroy the world and Sam’s parents are vacationing in Paris.

Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen doesn’t so much have subplots as it has the paper sketch of a subplot with some dialogue thrown at it and maybe a scene or two before it moves on to something else. It’s the suggestion of character development, the rough draft of plot threads. The movie might have nearly two and a half hours but it clearly doesn’t want to waste time on incidental things like character arcs or story-telling or scenes that make sense when viewed back to back. It’s as though someone gave Michael Bay a complete, multidimensional 15-hour movie and he cut it down, leaving in only the parts that reached a certain threshold of awesome. Thus we have some parental comedy, some explosions, a few shots of the perpetually lip-glossed Megan Fox, some more explosions, some stuff happening in a military control center, some funny college stuff, some shiny cars driving fast, other shiny cars and trucks turning into Transformers and smashing into opposing side Transformers. In fact, “shiny” is a big part of this movie — shiny cars, shiny trucks, shiny yellow Camaro, shiny Megan Fox’s hair, shiny explosions, shiny Josh Duhamel. Shia LaBeouf is not so much shiny, he’s in motion — that being the other major theme of Transformers, stuff moving fast. The cars speed, the fighter jets swoop down, Shia LaBeof runs, other people run, the unicycle-ish Transformers roller skate after their untransformed vehicle brethren. Shiny stuff moving fast — there’s your plot summary. Transformational shweesh shweesh, vaguely gun-cocking-sound, ka-boom — there, I’ve just described most of the scenes.

For all that big chunks of this movie flat out makes no sense — for example: many of the scenes in Egypt, particularly the ones that appear to feature wild camels; the scene where the doors at a Washington, D.C., museum seem to open onto a California desert complete with mountains in the background, everything to do with the reappearance of John Turturro — I didn’t entirely mind. I don’t even mind the anachronistic jingoism and the score that, at one point, seemed like Wagner with more drums and less subtlety. If anything, this movie’s biggest problem is that despite the “oh, to hell with it” approach to story continuity, it’s still really long. Perhaps a few of those somber speeches about destiny or revenge could have been cut. Also, while some of the robot-on-robot violence is quite cheer-able, much of it is just a crazy hairball of metal and CGI and you don’t know what’s happening until something blows up and the smoke clears (and re: stuff blowing up — this is the kind of movie where you’ll find yourself thinking “what’s on fire here, the sand?” because explosions and fire don’t always seem to have a direct connection to some actual gas or solid igniting).

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is loud, un-self-consciously campy, occasionally absurd and full of things clearly designed with the idea “make it more badass” in mind. In short, it’s a Michael Bay movie. And it’s a silly, overly long one. But, as it turns out, still plenty of fun. B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material. Directed by Michael Bay and written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is two hours and 24 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.