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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

(2009)  1/2 Pg-13
150 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Tom Kenny.

/content/films/3458/1.jpgNever in the field of blockbuster movies has so much been spent on so little. That pretty much sums up my feelings about the sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But who cares, really? Pre-sold fans--correct in assuming the movie will serve up more of the same (and more!)--will show up in droves, others will follow like sheep to the noisiest movie of the week, and the remainder don't need my help to realize they have no interest in a movie about transforming robots destroying lots of shit. But if there's anybody out there, it's my job to try to steer you clear of this insulting action extravaganza.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (scripted by the first film's scribes--Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci--plus Ehren Kruger) wastes no time in getting stupid. The opening "historical" sequence plays like a gag trailer, with Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime intoning, "Earth. Birthplace of the human race." That's right, this movie assumes you're so stupid that you don't know what Earth is. It's a harbinger of the herky-jerky story and plotholes to come, orchestrated by director Michael Bay to be virtually incoherent. At one point, John Turturro's disgraced Agent Simmons impatiently spits, "Condense! Plot! Tell it!", but Bay shows no such ruthless efficiency, bringing in his sequel at 150 tiresome minutes.

2007's Transformers revolved around a fight between the good Autobots and nasty Decepticons over an alien MacGuffin called the "All Spark Cube." Because that worked out so well, the sequel lazily reveals that, for two years, a sliver of the cube (say it with me: "the Shard"!) has been in the folds of a thrashed hoodie in the closet of the first film's Ivy League-bound teen hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). During those two years, the Autobots have continued to war against the Decepticons, with the ineffectual support of a classified government strike team called NEST (an excuse for Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson to collect paychecks).

Anyway, both sides want "the Shard," so it's off to the races again, with obligatory nods to Steven Spielberg's oeuvre (from Gremlins to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Bay himself (a Bad Boys II poster). Bay's hallmarks are all here: crunching metal, shamelessly objectified women who seem to have stepped off the pages of a mechanic's calendar, glorification of armed conflict, and slo-mo "grandeur." Bay's success with the masses is excess with the masses. By ignoring that feminism and hybrid cars ever happened, Bay has cornered the heterosexual male market, feeding men--and especially boys--heavy metal and curvy women in Daisy Dukes, preferrably combined in a fetishistic manner at which even P.J. O'Rourke might look askance. Lines like "Ooh, I love it when you say cam shafts--whisper it to me" and "You know how to hot-wire a car? So hot" seem to suggest that Bay, like his robot heroes, ejaculates motor oil. Talk about sex drive.

/content/films/3458/2.jpgPerhaps Bay reasons that while he's got us thinking about sex, our IQs naturally drop tens of points, the better to make us accept the broad scat-stick humor and bizarre anthropomorphisms, like a robot rubbing his clamps with glee. At least WALL·E's human-like robot had a satirical point to make. When Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen brushes against philosophy--as when Gibson's Air Force Tech Sergeant Epps looks over Optimus Prime and muses, "You gotta wonder: if God made us in His image, who made him?"--try not to bust a gut. When the very first line of robot dialogue is "He's here--I smell him," the movie is letting you know you're on your own in suspending your disbelief.

I suppose it's part of the movie's Saturday-morning-TV aesthetic (like gorging on seven of those shows in a row) that the robots all talk in goony accents (British, New Yawk Italian "mook," etc.). But Bay's most egregious innovation this time is to multiple his Ebonics-speaking robots by two with the jive-talking Twins, which might as well have been called Amos and Andy (instead of Mudflap and Skids). These "spaced-out," illiterate Transformers may not be "shiftless," but their verbiage and physiognomy (including jutting "ears") is blithe but unmistakeable race baiting, especially when mirrored by a buck-toothed African-American simpleton who pops up for a punchline. Perhaps uncoincidentally, the Obama administration takes its lumps as President Obama is said to be scurrying into hiding while his hateful representative Galloway (John Benjamin Hickey) obstructs the good guys before getting his just desserts as the butt of a nasty joke.

In other human news, Shia LaBeouf earns every cent of his salary, especially when called upon to twitch spasmodically as the receptacle of the All Spark's alien-robot knowledge. That plot development leads Sam, girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), and Sam's new college roomie Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) to the Pyramids in search of "the Matrix of Leadership" (Sam's ugly-American parents, as played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White, also make it all the way to Egypt). Bay never met a cliché he didn't like, but Revenge of the Fallen proves it's his stupidest film long before it arrives at the robot pixie dust (I thought I was hallucinating the plot point for a second until a character actually used the phrase "robot pixie dust" to make the allusion explicit).

Bay optimus-primed some scenes for IMAX, but make no mistake: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the anti-The Dark Knight, a numbing, brainless spectacle that depicts multiple 9/11-scale disasters (and worse: one event has "worldwide the neighborhood of 7000") in an unfeeling, video-game-styled manner. Of course, it's a matter of taste and nostalgia. Some people grew up on and grew to love Hasbro Toys' Transformers gimmickry, and one can't begrudge them enjoying their childhood play writ large; others are just accustomed to scarfing and barfing the latest cinematic junk food. Silly critics...Transformers is for kids.

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