A few weeks ago, Michael Bay appeared as a guest judge on the FOX reality series, "On the Lot," where a handful of aspiring filmmakers compete for a $1-million development deal at Dreamworks Pictures. Bay might be making big-budget studio fare, but he has no business instructing anyone on how good movies are made. Case in point: "Transformers," an abysmal, mind-numbing adaptation of the popular Hasbro/Takara toy line, a merchandising bonanza that spawned a 1980s cartoon series.
Snazzy, photorealistic CGI meshes seamlessly with live-action surroundings and characters, but it is nothing more than empty flash without a soul. Amazing, how hundreds of millions of dollars can go into making a finished product that doesn't offer one solitary second of wonder, momentum, tension, or authentic emotion. Instead, the money has been spent to service an awful hack-job script, dialogue so hokey one almost cannot believe their ears at times, a trainwreck of derivative characters too flimsy to even be described as cardboard, and sporadic overblown action that proves indecipherable chaos and shaky camerawork does not an exciting sequence make.
The mess of a story is at once simplistic and baffling. Two warring alien tribes, the good-guy Autobots and malevolent Decepticons, have made their way to earth, their transforming abilities allowing them to pose undetected as transportation vehicles and electronic equipment. The Decepticons are out to locate a cube with the powers to allow them to rule the universe, and their one link to finding it is hidden in a pair of eye glasses owned by 16-year-old Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the descendant of an explorer who came upon one of the robots hidden in the ice of Antarctica in the 1800s.
Naturally, the Autobots want to stop the Decepticons, and they've already got a leg up: one of them, Bumblebee, is Sam's new Chevy Camaro. Helping out Sam on the human side are Mikaela (Megan Fox), a beautiful classmate whom he has a crush on; Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson), soldiers who stumble upon the Decepticons in the Middle East; and Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) and Australian supermodel-cum-information hacker Megan (Rachael Taylor).
Just last week in my review for "Live Free or Die Hard
," it was noted that a summer action picture does not require a great screenplay as long as it provides the requisite thrills one expects. That film succeeded by accomplishing just that. "Transformers," however, does nothing right. The script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (2006's "Mission: Impossible III
") is beyond terrible and on a plane all its own, throwing pitiful comic relief (sassy black grandmas, a drunken mother); kid-friendly gags (a dog pees on one of the transformers, who worries about getting rusted); large helpings of violence and sexual innuendo (including an extensive conversation about masturbation), and manipulative melodrama (Capt. Lennox has a baby at home he hasn't gotten to see in person, boo-hoo) into a melting pot of astonishing ineptitude.
Director Michael Bay (2005's "The Island
") is primarily the one to blame for the putrid outcome of "Transformers." He is the one at the helm, and as the showrunner has decided to recycle a laughably imitative and jingoistic music score that could very well be the same one used in 1998's "Armageddon," as well as slow-motion shots of people getting out of vehicles or running from destruction that are so haphazardly cliché they earn giggles out of their sheer ham-fisted audacity. The action scenes, a bombarding orgy of disorganization and fury, showcase expert visual effects work, rhythmless editing and amateurish cinematography. On the evidence here, Bay hasn't a clue how to orchestrate grand set-pieces and milk them for suspense or interest. Additionally, the characters are apparently all indestructible, so the chance to build unease or at least a palpable threat is moot. It might have helped a little had there been someone whose fate was worth caring about, but they're all such one-note creations it's hard to muster up the barest of enthusiasm.
The acting is predominately dreadful. Josh Duhamel (2006's "Turistas
") and Tyrese Gibson (2006's "Annapolis
") emote with the passion of inanimate G.I. Joe figures as soldiers Lennox and Epps. Rachael Taylor (2006's "See No Evil
") looks and acts like she should be walking a runway, not working for the Pentagon. Jon Voight (2006's "Glory Road
") sleepwalks his way through the role of Defense Secretary John Keller. Megan Fox (2004's "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
") is objectified by the camera as Mikaela, forced to act with her cleavage rather than a personality. And poor Shia LaBeouf (2007's "Disturbia
") struggles to keep a straight face and make lemonade out of lemons as the heroic Sam. He keeps his dignity intact, quite a feat considering the words he is forced to say are consistent howlers.
Too silly and juvenile to be taken seriously and so earnest it can only be viewed as drama gone wrong, "Transformers" beats out the abominable likes of "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
" as the lowest of the low in this year's summer movie sweepstakes. As fake as press-on nails and as misguided as a blind dog abandoned in the wild, the film sits immobile amidst the would-be whiz-bang explosions and robot battles and freeway chases, each one more paralyzingly mechanical and outright boring than the next. When heartfelt memories of 1998's "Godzilla" dance in an audience member's head during a like-minded blockbuster invasion movie, you know something has gone alarmingly awry. "Transformers" is useless, a garbage heap with a price tag.