Wednesday, July 01, 2009

'Transformers' sequel is an overlong headache

If you went to camp as a kid, you might remember a song that went like this: “You can’t ride in my little red wagon, the axle's broken and the wheels are sagging. Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.” That basically sums up the experience of seeing “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Each scene is a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

The sequel to 2007’s “Transformers” made $200 million in just five days in the United States and has already made nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. By Hollywood’s standards that makes the movie a roaring success, but money made and quality of a film is not always an equal mathematic equation.

Obviously with a movie about warring robots that can shape shift into anything mechanical, the expectations aren’t for something deep, thought provoking and meaningful. This is meant to be mindless entertainment, and that’s fine, but the biggest problem with “Revenge of the Fallen” is it just doesn’t know when to quit.

Director Michael Bay is known to be a filmmaker of excess who likes to blow stuff up real good. His films are populated by women who look like supermodels and are photographed as such. For 14-year-old boys, he is probably the best director ever. If you can connect with that inner child, it can be fun to a point, but there’s definitely too much of a good thing including Megan Fox running in slow motion.

Both “Transformers” films are produced by Steven Spielberg, and the first time around it seemed like he was a steadying hand to Bay’s more excessive impulses. Some moments of grace were even allowed to slip in. That’s not the case this time. Perhaps Spielberg was off planning how to further ruin the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

The first “Transformers” was a chaotic noisemaker too, but it entertained, almost in spite of itself. It had novelty going for it. There was a thrill and a bit of awe in watching cars, planes and trucks turn into giant talking robots. Sure, it was silly, but it seemed to be aware of that fact.

The second time around, the tone is far too serious. There is some goofiness supplied by the invaluable John Turturro returning as Agent Simmons. He always has a quirky line reading or an offbeat reaction that cuts through the bombastic noise and self important tone.

Shia LaBeouf is still an amicable lead as the movie’s human hero, Sam Witwicky, and there are some amusing scenes early on with Sam dealing with his parents’ reactions to him leaving for college. Fox as Sam’s girlfriend definitely has a screen presence, but all Bay requires of her is to look hot.

As the movie progresses, moments of human interaction become fewer and fewer — but then, you aren’t paying for human drama. We are paying to see robots smash each other to bits.

A little of the crunching robot battles goes a long way. The fight scenes that take over the last 30 minutes and that are spread out through the rest of the running time are messy and confusing.

To make matters worse, the film can’t even follow its own rules when it is revealed that there is a transformer that can take human form. The scenes play like a particularly bad “Terminator” knock-off.

At two and a half hours, the latest “Transformers” is only a few minutes longer than its predecessor, but it feels much longer. It is as if Bay has discovered how to slow the passage of the time. If only we can apply this technology to humanity we could add years to our lives, or at least the hours Bay stole away from us.

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