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More Than Sores the Eye, Robots in Disgrace

MOVIE REVIEW
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

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Paramount Pictures

Movies do not get more painstakingly idiotic than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” – an orgy of clanging metal, propagandistic wide shots, short declarative sentences passing for dialogue and uncontrolled camera pans. Where Michael Bay’s first crack at the “Transformers” franchise – though itself a dubious venture – managed to evoke a sort of silly, slapdash spirit, the sequel quickly collapses into unmitigated big-budget tedium, all dressed up with nowhere to go. It indulges all of its maker’s worst instincts, without demonstrating any of the muscular storytelling that’s become his true specialty.

The picture returns to the endless battle raging between the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth. Although it brings back the entire collection of humans caught in the cross hairs, most notably Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) and Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), there’s no questioning Mr. Bay’s primary allegiance: to the gargantuan metallic beasts and their phony mythology. That means lots of handwringing on the part of Optimus Prime and devilish plotting by Megatron and “the Fallen” in between explosions of such magnitude that the greenhouse gasses they omitted will set the global warming fight back decades.

The film lends credence to that Verizon FiOS commercial of several years back, in which Mr. Bay – demanding “things to be awesome” – strutted around a fancy Hollywood estate setting off “awesome” explosions. That appears to have been his thought process in constructing this sequel, which never met a bloated action scene it didn’t like. Money burns onscreen as Transformers of all shapes and sizes beat the living hell out of one another, while a military squad fires fruitlessly and Sam and Mikaela run around. This isn’t filmmaking. It’s showing off, a giant dick-measuring contest in which Mr. Bay tries to teach us just how “awesome” constant cutting, a ridiculously amplified soundtrack, huge freaking robots and overwrought epic framing reminiscent of a National Guard commercial can be.

The only life here comes, what a surprise, from John Turturro, reprising his role as Agent Simmons. He’s the only actor clued in to the utter ridiculousness of it all, performing each scene with a knowing, nerdy glee that’s altogether missing from the rest of this very earnest special effects display. Mr. LeBeouf, mistaking rapidly delivered wisecracks for acting, and Ms. Fox, playing Miakela as a vapid beauty and little else, could have learned something from the master. Instead they buy wholeheartedly into Mr. Bay’s belief that he’s making a seriously “awesome” action drama (with the emphasis on “awesome” and “action,” not “drama”), and they so willingly succumb to the single dimensions assigned them that they might as well have been erased from the movie entirely. The plot has something to do with Energons and the sun. Things come to a head with a long, long battle in Egypt that slams the door on what’s left of your brain. The end.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

Opens on June 24 in the United States and on June 19 in Britain.

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on Hasbro’s Transformers action figures; director of photography, Ben Seresin; edited by Roger Barton, Paul Rubell, Joel Negron and Thomas Muldoon; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Nigel Phelps; visual effects and animation by Industrial Light & Magic; produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Josh Duhamel (Major Lennox), Tyrese Gibson (U.S.A.F. Master Sgt. Epps) and John Turturro (Simmons).

WITH THE VOICES OF: Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Tom Kenny (Wheelie; Skids), Reno Wilson (Mudflap) and Tony Todd (the Fallen).

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