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Movie of the Day: Transformers (2007)

22 Jun

Michael Bay has a style that I like to call “yutz charm.” He makes movies presumably for an audience that doesn’t ask for much beyond having their movies be loud and pretty to look at. That’s not to say that the audiences for his movies fit the term “yutz” but Bay likes to treat them as if they are. He’s the brainchild behind such box office hemorrhoids as “Pearl Harbor”, “The Rock”, “Armageddon” and “Bad Boys.” His movies are loud, crude and colorful; they move fast and stuff gets blow’d up real good.  What do you expect?  Quality?

Bay makes movies at two speeds: Pathetic and passable. Most of the time his work falls into the former, but “Transformers” falls into the latter. There are good things in it, moments that could almost be mistaken for being “inspired.” Yet, for every effective scene there are two that aren’t. You get a funny line of dialogue and then a robot that urinates on a man sitting in his car. Scene like that kind of make you lose faith.

“Transformers”, of course, are based on a line of toys first introduced in the 1980s. It was clever, you could bend and twist these toys and turn them from robots into cars and other things – sort of like what Bay is doing to his audience. It wasn’t exactly food for the mind, but it was a clever idea. Added to that was a TV show, then a rather superfluous 1986 animated movie and now a $150,000,000 retro exercise that is entertaining while you’re watching it but means nothing when it’s over.

The story isn’t much, but here goes: Two cults of ancient robots have arrived on Earth having battles one another for centuries across the galaxy. In this corner are The Autobots led by Optimus Prime who fight for right and might and want to spare the human race their war. In this corner are the Decepticons, who could give a rip about the human race and want to turn all of our technology against us. They’re in a battle to retrieve something called The All Spark, which sounds like a set of spark plugs but is actually device that can turn a mundane object into a transformer. Why they need it is somewhat unclear. Actually, it would have made more sense if they were looking for a set of spark plugs.

The robots themselves are 50-feet tall and have an arsenal of weapons. They can contort themselves into vehicles – trucks, cars, planes, you name it. Bay’s spirit of “yutz charm” assumes that you will overlook the question of how a robot the size of a small office building could contain enough metal to transform itself into a half-ton pickup truck. On the bright side, several of the robots do have personalities. Their dialogue is more or less perfunctory but there was, at least, an attempt to give them something more than big weapons. More might have been done, however, to make the robots more appealing. The Autobots and the Decepticons are incomprehensible when you look at them. Their faces aren’t expressive, but hidden within all the metal. They have mouths but why do they need them?

The All Spark is in the possession of a teenager named Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf), a kid so nervous that he runs the risk of developing hypertension before he gets into college – maybe it has something to do with the fact the his name is WitWicky. His parents are no help. His mother is a jabbering idiot and his father takes pride in making his son’s life a living nightmare. As the movie opens, Sam is about to receive his first car. No points for guessing that the car is More Than Meets the Eye – see I went there. Also into his life falls Mikaela (Megan Fox), a rapturous beauty who falls for Sam because – gasp – she cares about him. They briefly have a relationship that in another movie might have been interesting. Ms. Fox, it should be said, is the most appealing special effect in the whole movie.

This is a strange movie. Every action, every moment is ramped up beyond the ordinary. Even moments of calm between the human characters have the urgency of a cartoon. Most of it is given over to the clatter and bang of the visual effects department namely the fights between the robots. When they fight and their bodies are pressed against one another, you can’t tell one from the other. They’re metal; therefore they can’t get hurt, so why do we care? If they get destroyed, they can be rebuilt. Right? Maybe that’s what the All Spark was for? It’s hard to ask questions, just be mesmerized by the Yutz Charm and don’t ask too many questions.

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