Movie review by Greg Carlson

Director Michael Bay, one of Hollywood’s most clueless and bombastic moviemakers, sucks all the potential fun out of “Transformers,” a massively budgeted, feature-length headache that is equal parts military recruitment propaganda and car commercial. Based on a line of Hasbro action figures, “Transformers” will appeal only to pre-teen boys and adults who still think and act like pre-teen boys. Loud, stupid, and obnoxious, not to mention ridiculously overlong, “Transformers” will be a gigantic hit in spite of itself. Anyone seeking a movie with heart, warmth, or realistic human characters should look elsewhere.

One must exhibit a very robust suspension of disbelief to accept the premise that warring factions of oversized, sentient robots that can reconfigure themselves to look mostly like GMC vehicles have come to earth in search of a MacGuffin known as the “Allspark.” Metallic baddie Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, has literally been kept on ice for years by the U.S. government, but his fellow machines are drawing ever closer to securing a pair of eyeglasses with crucial information embedded in the lenses. Manic, twitchy dweeb Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf, tremendously annoying), a descendant of the explorer who originally owned the specs, is trying to sell them on eBay.

As a filmmaker, Bay has never been acknowledged for demonstrating sensitivity, and his casual racism and sexism sink “Transformers” like a stone. Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson are reduced to playing painfully strident caricatures. Of the young female characters, Megan Fox is stuck in the thankless “hot girlfriend” part and is given a cursory back-story that leads to a laughable misunderstanding straight out of a bad sit-com. Rachael Taylor fares no better, playing a computer wizard who figures out all sorts of important things and then is completely ignored once the action cranks up.

Neither human nor Transformer is immune to a blockheaded reductionism that saddles each entity with a single defining trait. In what is perhaps the most painfully unfunny sequence in the movie, Sam’s mother accuses him of masturbating in his bedroom (lifted unsuccessfully from the vastly superior “Weird Science”) while the young man desperately attempts to hide both a girl and several gargantuan robots from his nosy folks. Sam’s Transformer pals, having learned earth language from mediated popular culture, behave like clumsy children, exclaiming things like “My bad” when accidentally crushing the family flowerbed.

When the titular creations engage in a massive orgy of destruction in the final section of the film, Bay falls back on his tried and true methods: an inexplicable combination of unnecessary slow motion shots presumably meant to instill a sense of grandeur and awe, and a cacophony of machine-gun quick cuts so disorienting you have absolutely no idea which robot is which and who is doing what to whom. The design of the Transformers is particularly vexing. Despite the advanced computer design that has rendered them with tens of thousands of moving parts, it is impossible to differentiate between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Sadly, no amount of dazzling special effects can compensate for an absence of good storytelling.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/9/07.

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