Over the years, director Michael Bay has become synonymous with loud, mind-numbing and narratively pointless summer action films (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor). This summer isn't exactly an exception to this pattern. But, with The Island, you can see Bay trying very hard to stretch his meager talent into a marginally smarter new genre. Bless his adrenaline-addled little heart, he just doesn't have it in him.
The year is ... I don't know, sometime in the future. It would seem the world has been destroyed by unspecified contaminants and the few remaining humans are kept safe within a high tech facility that resembles a cross between Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and a shopping mall designed by Bauhaus architects. Not to worry, though, the post-apocalyptic world still has healthy product placement deals with Puma, Aquafina, Apple and Xbox.
One day, a quietly rebellious citizen named Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) finds a literal bug in the city's ventilation system. If the Earth is completely contaminated, how could this insect intruder exist? Naturally, our curious hero decides to bust out. Naturally, he discovers that everything he's been told about the world is a lie. The Earth is, in fact, not contaminated. Turns out that Lincoln and all the other people he knows are actually clones who have been grown in a secret medical laboratory for the sole purpose of serving as living organ donation banks for rich clients of the evil Merrick Corporation.
Realizing that there's nothing but a bonesaw and an Igloo cooler in his future, Lincoln grabs hold of his best friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson, looking damn cute while selling her soul to the Hollywood devil), and the duo escape into the real world in search of the “sponsors” that purchased them.
The first half of The Island is slow and fairly thoughtful and is interrupted only by an assload of logical gaps. (Why bother growing intelligent, ambulatory clones? Why grow old clones: Wouldn't you want your organs as fresh as possible? If, in the far-flung future, they can grow whole people, why can't they just grow individual organs? Why surround an entire underground complex with a giant holographic projection grid when there are no damn windows to see out of anyway?) If you squint and shut off your brain, it's almost like watching an old-fashioned '70s-era medical thriller like Coma or Parts: The Clonus Horror (from which The Island borrows basically its entire script--substitute a Coke can for the bug and it's lawsuit-worthy identical).
The second half of the film, however, is pure unadulterated Michael Bay. Bay, who never met an explosion he didn't like, basically has his heroes run and run and run and run from one stunt-filled setup to another. Heroes dangling off the top of a skyscraper? Check. Computer-generated speeder bike sequence? Check. Los Angeles freeway chase? Hell, we've got two of those! This is the type of film where major corporations hire colorful hit men (Djimon Hounsou, in this case) to follow people around Los Angeles, blowing up buildings, killing cops and slaughtering innocent civilians. It's also the type of film where evil genetic engineers (Sean Bean, in this case) turn out to be surprisingly buff kung fu fighters whom the hero must face down in a climactic battle.
It's a shame that the script for The Island ends up being so knuckleheaded, stealing all its ideas from other films (you can also add The Matrix, Minority Report, THX 1138 and Logan's Run to the above list of Brave New World, Coma and--mark my word, somebody's getting sued--Parts) and dumbing them down for cineplex consumption. There are moments when you can actually see Bay trying to direct. But his hyperactive fit of non-style only ends up looking like a glossy Victoria's Secret commercial (which Bay has, famously, directed). Despite the film's increasing action, it feels stillborn. The Island has all the depth and narrative subtlety of a fireworks show. Sure, there are moments when the audience will issue an involuntary “Ooh” or “Aah,” but--seconds later--you'll be hard-pressed to remember what it is you just saw.
Perhaps, sometime in the far-flung future, Michael Bay will direct a good movie. Sorry to say, the future is not now.
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