Transformers


Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 
Transformers
Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, "Disturbia") needs a small percentage of the cash and an A in one class to capitalize on his dad's (Kevin Dunn, "The Black Dahlia," "All the King's Men") promise of a new car.  After relating his great grandfather's exploration of the Arctic Circle, salesman Sam offers his ancestor's specks via eBay listing and convinces his teacher to give him the grade.  What Sam doesn't know is that those glasses are what cause his car, a 1976 yellow, striped Camaro, to lure him on the used lot - they hold the secret of a centuries old war between the evil Decepticons and the good guy Autobots of which his car is one. They are "Transformers."

Laura:
This may be the first film released by a studio in conjunction with a toy company (Hasbro).  Director Michael Bay ("Bad Boys II," "The Island"), never known for subtlety, transforms the popular 1980's toy line into a loud, flashy, goofy mashup of a movie that plays like "Gremlins" as really big hardware.  The "Mission: Impossible III" screenwriting team of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman have concocted a three stranded plot but Bay's inclination towards visual excess strands his actors in two of them.

The film opens with a bang as a ghost chopper lands at a foreign military base.  Just as its identity is striking home (the 4500x is a known casualty), Bay shows us the trickery that is its pilot before the thing rejiggers itself into a deadly, marauding 'bot.  Back in DC, Defense Secretary John Keller (Jon Voight, "National Treasure") and his men are trying to determine the cause of the loss of their entire base as Sergeant Lennox (Josh Duhamel, "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!"), USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, "2 Fast 2 Furious," "Four Brothers") and their special ops team escape into the desert and try and make contact.  When they are attacked by a giant, metallic scorpion on the outskirts of a village, they procure a cell phone, relay the thing's picture, and call in air cover.

Meanwhile Sam is pining after Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen") and soon after his car brings them together they quickly witness its transformation into 'Bumblebee' but a police car turns into attacker as well.  They're saved and discover the plight of the Autobots from their leader, Optimus Prime (voice of Eeyore, Peter Cullen), and their need to recover the giant cube Allspark before the Decepticons do. It's location, apparently, was lasered into those antique glasses, but as Sam scurries to find them, he, Mikaela and his mom and dad are taken away by Sector 7 Agent Simmons (John Turturro, "The Good Shepherd") to the secret compound beneath the Hoover Dam that has housed the cryogenically frozen Megatron, discovered in the Arctic all those years ago.

Bay keeps the military exercises riveting and there is no denying a final showdown between Transformers good and evil is exciting to watch, if overlong, but his instincts fail him elsewhere.  The Witwicky clan's sitcom situations are directed to a hysterical pitch - one can practically envision LaBeouf over emoting to his bluescreen and Bay has the distinct dishonor of eliciting John Turturro's worst performance ever.  The Government subplot pairs a wooden Voight with a stiletto-healed 'analyst' (Aussie Rachael Taylor, "See No Evil") who is the most unbelievable scientist since "The World Is Not Enough's" Denise Richards.  Maggie goes for backup to hacker Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson, "The Departed") whose home life shadows that of car salesman Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) - something straight out of Medea country.

The bots may look cool and while their transformations while speeding down highways packs an adrenaline rush, the special effects are of the speed edit variety - you never get a sense of how these things are really built. The Autobots are all designed with a level of cuteness in mind (think "Robot's" Rodney Copperbottom) and given dialogue reminiscent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  A 'joke' featured in early trailers where one climbs out of a swimming pool too small to have contained it only to be asked if it is the tooth fairy is a groaner extraordinaire.  A sight gag of the Autobots 'hiding' on the sides of the Witwicky home works well, however, as does Sam's pet 'Mojo,' a Chihuahua in a cast.

The Decepticons do convey menace, but that final battle is staged for the filmmakers' convenience more than logic.  As Sam is directed to take the cube past Megatron to the top of a tall building, like a runt receiver pulling an impossible end run, one can only wonder why U.S. Government copters have any chance of reaching him first.  The climatic solution, Optimus's sacrifice stood on its head, feels like a cheat, an answer so obvious it should have been the goal all along.

"Transformers" is a big blast of a popcorn movie that will please non-discriminating fans and take its place in the pop culture pantheon, but Bay never even tries for consistency of tone and leaves his flesh and blood heroes looking tinny indeed.

C+

Robin:
I have never been a fan of, either, Michael Bay films or the popular Transformers comics, toys or animated TV series. However, I saw the trailers for Bay’s big screen, CGI-laden adaptation of “The Transformers” and thought, “well, this doesn’t look too bad.” Initial looks can be deceiving and I admit that I was wrong. So sue me.

The Transformers” is a brain-number of a film that aims squarely at its Transformer-obsessed audience and few others. The aud that I saw “The Transformers” with were, pretty much, fans of whatever it is the franchise is and they enjoyed the “event.” The title characters are “non-biological extraterrestrials” that come to earth in search of the Cube of Life. There are good ‘bots, the Autobots led by Optimum Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), and bad ‘bots, called the Decepticons, led by the evil Megatron (voiced Darth Vader-like by Hugo Weaving), who has been kept in cryogenic suspension by the US Army since the 1930’s. The two sides fight and that is about it for nearly two and a half hours.

The Transformers” is about special F/X and action. There are no characters, here, just caricatures as Shia LeBoeuf, as Sam Witwicky, hustles family artifacts to buy a new car. The car he selects (or, does it select him?) is a beat up and rusty Chevy Camaro but has a kick ass engine. It is, in fact, a creature from another world that can turn itself into a nearly indestructible, giant battle ‘bot. Other bots arrive on the scene as cars and trucks – the good Transformers are brightly colored and shiny while the bad ones are generally black and sinister looking – to do battle to possess the Cube.

The good transformers enlist the human denizens of earth, especially Sam, who possesses a pair of his grandfather’s eyeglasses that contain information critical to the good ‘bots’ mission. Sam is joined by a bevy of other two-dimensional characters that do not flesh things out: there is pointless but very pretty love interest, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox); Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight, who seems too distracted to chew his usual scenery); Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as two of the Army survivors of the first Decepticon attack; and a bunch of others (including Bernie Mac) who play second fiddle to the copious, repetitive special F/X.

For the many Transformer fans out there: have fun. For everyone else: see anything, absolutely anything, else. It should have had at least 45 minutes cut from the finished product. As a non-fan, I give it a C. Fans will likely be more kind,
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