Friday, July 08, 2011

'Transformers 3' gives mindless entertainment a bad name

As I sit down to write about “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third in Michael Bay's insanely and globally popular franchise about cars that turn into robots that talk and beat the crap out of each other, I let out a heavy sigh as I realize I've lost eight hours of my life watching this schlock.
In truth, I actually liked most of the first in the series. There was a sense of wonder and even some moments of quiet grace amongst the chaos. The novelty wore off fast, though, in the second film which was a jumbled, overlong mess.
Everyone involved, including director Bay and star Shia LaBeouf, actually owned up to the second film's poor quality and promised a marked improvement in terms of character development, coherent action and an overall darker tone. Their intentions were pure at least, I'll give them that.
The plot involves the evil Decepticons using a transportation device to bring an army to Earth to reshape the world into their home planet. The good Autobots stand loyally by humanity as all creatures are deserving of freedom.
As has been true with all these films, “Dark of the Moon” is far too long for what is supposed to be a dumb summer action movie. The first 90 minutes is exposition that is so deadly dull that by the time you get to the climatic hour-long siege in Chicago it is hard to even care. The film would've benefited immensely by streamlining the first part of the movie to an hour or even 45 minutes.
Give credit where credit is due, the special effects here are first rate. The robots look convincingly real and their integration into real settings, particularly Chicago, is impressively seamless. The action is more crisp this time because it had to be to shot in 3D. Even in 2D it looks better. Still, we've seen this all before and these metal giants hacking way at each other looks the same every time. After a while it becomes numbing and boring.
The transformers themselves, with the exception of leader Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky's loyal bodyguard, have no discernible personalities or traits and are interchangeable.
The human drama is no better. LaBeouf, who was likable in the first film, is obnoxiously maniac in the third installment. The performance is full of terrible mugging and lots of yelling. It would be easy to put the blame on LaBeouf, but Bay should've seen this wasn't working and reined him in. Even the most talented actors, and LaBeouf does indeed have his charms, need direction.
Bay is more interested in his bombastic visuals than his actors, though. It is not just with LaBeouf. Much of the surprising strong supporting cast, including Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong, is way overacting. This is fun to a point, but eventually becomes distractingly annoying.
Series regular John Turturro is desperately struggling to get laughs in a performance that is becoming increasingly strange. It is as if he knows the material isn't working and he's just trying to keep himself amused. Sometimes he amuses us as well.
Then there's Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who replaces Megan Fox as the impossibly hot love interest. It is telling that most of the discussion around these women's performances is centered around who is hotter. A Victoria's Secret model making her acting debut, she's definitely beautiful. As is often the case with women in Bay's movies, she's here as eye candy. In terms of acting she is no better or worse than Fox.
So, will people like the film? Undoubtedly. It has already made $400 million worldwide in a week. People are going to give it a pass because it is just a mindless popcorn movie. But mindless entertainment doesn't need to be this brain dead and certainly not this oppressively long.

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