Movie News & Reviews

Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better

As big, dumb summer “entertainments” go, they don’t get much bigger or much dumber than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The briefly amusing mash-up/crunch-up of a couple of summers back has been recycled into an epic two and a half hours of explosions, ponderous cartoon history, veiled racism and inept geography.

Is it the worst movie of the summer? Possibly. Will everybody see it? Probably.

“Revenge of the Fallen” promises more Optimus vs. Megatron, more Ford vs. Chevy (only Ford is AWOL — they didn’t want to play the bad-guy cars this time), more Shia vs. Megan Fox’s cut-off short-shorts.

That last one, by the way — no contest.

“Revenge of the Fallen” means that the robots that supposedly were terminated in “Transformers” have got back their “spark,” led by “The Fallen” (voiced by Tony Todd, of “Candyman”). They have big plans for this planet that they first discovered thousands of years ago. It’s up to Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen’s voice), the Autobots and their human (American) allies to stop them.

Only the government doesn’t trust our beloved Camaros that convert into killer robots. They’re convinced the ’bots are the magnet that draws the evil Decepticons to Earth for their little brawls. The military men just shake their heads at this civilian foolishness.

“We’ve shed blood, sweat and precious metals together!”

Meanwhile, the idiotically named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, not touching that one) is off to college, where he’s pursued by alien co-eds and rescued by the comically hot Mikaela (Fox). Sam is connected to these transforming beasties by his past and an imprint on his brain.

As with the last “Transformers” movie, the early scenes work best. LaBeouf does a great motor-mouthed patter as Sam hallucinates visions of alien hieroglyphics and maps, annoying his astronomy professor (Rainn Wilson, funny in his one scene) and frightening his player/entrepreneur roomie (Ramon Rodriguez). At some point, though, the funny patter and goofy-mom (Julie White, fearlessly foolish) moments end and it’s all about the metal on metal as we circle the globe, sink an aircraft carrier and trash a pyramid or two in an effort to fend off human extinction.

Director Michael Bay decided he liked the laughs of the first 40 minutes of the first “Transformers” movie, so he pushed more laughs into this one — parents-eating-hash-brownie jokes, robots-humping-Megan Fox’s leg jokes, robots trash talking, cursing, and generally acting very street. Two of them have gold teeth, profess to be illiterate and speak a version of “jive” that must date back to “Starsky & Hutch.” Bay came all the way to America from Britain, built a career on “Bad Boys” movies, just to put robots in blackface?

But here’s where “2.0” is better than the original. The GM cars are cooler. The effects are sharper, higher-definition. None of that blur of chrome and steel that made the first film’s fights so tedious. Bay trots out every bit of U.S. military ordnance he can get his hands on — Predators, B-1 bombers. The guy who gave us “Pearl Harbor” has always wanted to be the new Tony Scott, and with “Transformers” — which was sort of “Top Gun” for toddlers during its ’80s TV cartoon days — he gets his wish.

The banter of the early scenes, the slang-savvy rap that LaBeouf and Rodriguez share about “Pretty Bettys” (the opposite of “Ugly Betty”), the way Fox embraces being exploited for her sensuality — all are abandoned for hours of chases and explosions.

Bay couldn’t bear to edit out a single effect or explosion. Even the third-act return of an over-the-top John Turturro as a disgraced government agent looking for redemption can’t help the “Fallen” get up.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

1 star (out of 5)

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Rainn Wilson

Director: Michael Bay

Time: 2 hours, 31 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of intense sci-fi action, violence, language, some crude and sexual material and brief drug material

WHERE: In wide release Here’s what other critics are saying about “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which opened at midnight Tuesday and is expected to be the summer’s biggest box-office draw.

IGN.com: “The biggest movie of the summer is finally here, but that’s the problem — it’s just too bloody big. Epic, spectacular but unfortunately far, far too long, the film proves that when it comes to Michael Bay blockbuster movies, you can have too much of a good thing.”

Total Film: “ ‘Fallen’ frequently approaches the first pic’s all-out awesomeness, and even occasionally surpasses it. A forest face-off between Optimus Prime and three Decepticons is impressive enough to merit comparison with King Kong’s multiple T-Rex smackdown. It’s this close to being the perfect summer flick.”

London’s Daily Mirror: “Pure mindless adventure mayhem that sticks firm and hard to its winning formula.”

Hollywood Reporter: “Shia LaBeouf gets little chance to show what charm he might have. Meanwhile, Megan Fox has little to do except look great in a tank top and tight jeans while running in slow motion through flying sand.”

Variety: “The sheer amount of ripping steel, exploding mechanical parts and mutating vehicles of all shapes and sizes is something to behold. Industrial Light & Magic’s superb handling of these sequences, which are like a little boy’s playtime fantasy taken to Wagnerian proportions, are the veritable centerpieces of a narrative that makes little effort to set up the fights.”

London Daily Mail: “Virtually all the dialogue is inaudible, drowned out by battles, explosions and gargantuan lumps of metal crashing into each other. I noted down a few morsels: ‘Punkass Decepticon, any last words?’ ‘The boy will not escape — we have him in our sights!’ and ‘There’s another source of Energon on this planet; the boy can lead us to it!’ I have no idea why I wrote those lines down, still less what they mean. I was just grateful to be able to hear them.”

Shiznit.com: “Somewhere toward the end, when you realize the plot literally centers around magic dust, you’ll feel ever-so-slightly silly for enjoying it.”

Compiled by David Frese

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