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Dustin Putman



Dustin's Review

The Island (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Michael Bay
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ethan Phillips, Brian Stepanek, Siobhan Flynn, Mary Pat Gleason
2005 – 133 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and action, some sexuality and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 10, 2005.

"The Island" is his first motion picture free of the creative poison that is producer Jerry Bruckheimer, but director Michael Bay (2003's "Bad Boys II") can't help but put into play a lot of the old Bruckheimer calling cards: the bombastic score, the sun-dappled slow motion kisses, the sepia-toned cinematography, the love scene lit to perfection, and the frenetic editing of the action scenes. Old habits must really die hard. For a while, though, Bay actually tricks the audience this time into thinking there's more substance than usual underneath the surface. The opening half-hour of "The Island" is invigorating and painstakingly structured in the way it only very slowly reveals the truth of what is going on. In other words, it takes its time in the most enthralling of ways, setting up the characters with efficiency and bringing to life a closed-off futuristic world unlike the kind we know. The rapturous spell regrettably does not last, its endless story possibilities floundered in the most lazy and rudimentary of fashions. By the end, director Michael Bay has deflated all rooting interest and thrown logic out the window in favor of shootouts and been-there-done-that chase sequences.

The year is 2019 and the past contamination of the outside world has brought about an indoor society where the residents, all dressed in form-fitting white attire, eagerly await their chance to be picked in a random lottery. The lucky chosen one is then sent to a beautiful island utopia to continue the reproduction of human life on the planet. Despite all this, more and more people are found on the outside almost every day and seek shelter with them. When Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) happens upon a moth one day—they have been told bugs have been rendered extinct—he grows all the more suspicious. A personal investigation leads him to discover that there is no island at all, the lottery winners actually taken by their so-called "supervisors" to serve a grimmer purpose. With gal pal Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) the latest lottery pick, Lincoln and Jordan go on the run, discovering that the outside world is, in fact, alive and well. With the supervisors and henchmen in hot pursuit, they soon find out the truth: they are clones of living human beings, their bodies used as insurance in an attempt for the rich to expand their life expectancy by up to an additional seventy-five years.

The first act of "The Island," a high-concept sci-fi-thriller in the vein of 1997's "Gattaca," 1998's "Dark City" and 2002's "Minority Report," holds such promise as it seductively peels away layer upon layer of the falsities that Lincoln and Jordan have been brought up to know that one can't help but be more and more discouraged the longer it goes on. Once these two appealing, easy-on-the-eyes protagonists breach the security barrier and go on the run, the diversions that are the subsequent nonstop manic chases and fight scenes can only last so long before the viewer naturally expects it to return to its more thought-provoking, idea-based first half-hour.

Intoxicated by their big budget and commercial capabilities, screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and Caspian Tredwell-Owen (2003's "Beyond Borders") derail the project in a flurry of scenes where Lincoln and Jordan run for dear life, mixed with not one, not two, but three automobile chases that, sorry to say, are even too patently absurd for escapist entertainment. These action sequences are professional enough that they keep your attention, but once they are over and all that is left is a climax of ridiculous Screenwriting 101 coincidences, too-convenient reveals, and rapid gunfire, you have stopped caring altogether and are left wondering how such provocative ideas could be so carelessly squandered.

There are ethical and moral questions in "The Island"—about cloning, about the price put on one's life and vanity, about the level of importance a manufactured being has in comparison to their naturally biological counterparts—that demand exploration, but are only fleetingly touched upon. Mostly, they are thrown to the wayside as the plot starts discouragingly spinning its wheels, and the total disregard of attention to the huge, probably world-altering implications of the final scenes isn't just neglectful, but also irresponsible. When two characters lock lips in the final scene as the sun meticulously shines in the background giving them an unblemished orange glow, it is nearly as superficial as anything in Michael Bay's insipid past oeuvre that includes 1998's unbearable "Armageddon" and 2003's disgustingly offensive "Bad Boys II."

Ewan McGregor (2005's "Star Wars: Episode III -Revenge of the Sith") and Scarlett Johansson (2004's "In Good Company"), making for some bewitching chemistry together, can't be put to fault. Besides never having looked better, they give engaging, dedicated performances for as long as they can stay afloat the increasing barrage of utilized stuntmen. Lending fine-tuned if cliched support are Steve Buscemi (2003's "Big Fish"), whose character of McCord is on hand for the sole purpose of explaining away the required exposition, and Djimon Hounsou (2005's "Beauty Shop"), whose antagonistic Albert Laurent experiences an abrupt last-minute change of heart just so he can serve the needs of the script. Before long, all these fine actors are downgraded to mere pawns in Michael Bay's master plan that bigger and louder must mean better. He is sorely mistaken. In the case of "The Island," it only means dumber.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman