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Dustin Putman

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Revenge of the Fallen  (2009)
Zero Stars
Directed by Michael Bay.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Ramon Rodriguez, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Isabel Lucas, Tyrese Gibson, Rainn Wilson, Michael Papajohn, Matthew Marsden, Glenn Morshower, John Benjamin Hickey; voices of Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Anthony Anderson, Reno Wilson, Darius McCrary, Tony Todd, Frank Welker, Tom Kenny, Charles Adler, Mike Patton, Jess Harnell, Mark Ryan, Robert Foxworth.
2009 – 149 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 23, 2009.
A presold summer blockbuster that takes a $200-million budget and uses it to make the cinematic equivalent of a truck-stop toilet that hasn't been cleaned in a matter of weeks, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is putrid, offensive and life-sucking. The expense is up on the screen in an orgy of almost nonstop CGI effects, but it looks as if not a penny has been spent on a dignified screenplay, an acting coach, a cohesive editor, or a capable director who knows the difference between mounting truly thrilling, suspenseful, energetic, awe-inspiring action set-pieces and disorganized, joyless, empty bombasts of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Michael Bay is the worst of A-list filmmaking hacks, a man who loses himself in pompous flash and cash, narrows in on shameless product-placement and militaristic propaganda, and sexually massages himself with his own grossly inflated ego without spending a moment's thought on the overall sense and quality of what he is prematurely ejaculating onto the screen. 2007's "Transformers" had many of the same deficient characteristics, but this easily inferior sequel is also cynical and distasteful in a way that could churn stomachs.

The plot fits the film, which is to say that it is nonsense that would be downright inscrutable if not for side characters spouting off shameless monologues of exposition in between the explosions, car commercials and slow-motion running shots. Roughly two years have passed, and the Pentagon has set up a classified strike team known as NEST whose job it is to bring down the remaining evil alien Decepticons still lurking on Earth. Despite the city streets of Shanghai being torn apart by a giant rampaging shape-shifter in an early scene, causing mass casualties in its wake, somehow the government has managed to cover the event up from the public. Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes along its merry, ignorant way, apparently existing in a modern society where technology and communication do not exist.

Right before he is about to leave for college, 18-year-old Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) discovers a shard of the powerful, presumably destroyed All Spark cube on a sweatshirt in his closet. He promptly gives it to hottie mechanic girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) for safe keeping while he is away—though not before it creates a gaggle of small minions who destroy his parents' home. The Decepticons, looking to resurrect former leader Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving) from his watery grave in the North Pacific, are soon hot on both their trails. With the good Autobots on their side, Sam and Mikaela have no choice but to go on the run, hoping to defeat their alien adversaries once and for all and return peace to everyone.

There are two scenes in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" where a poster for 2008's "Cloverfield" is prominently seen hanging on a dorm room wall. Like this film, that one involved an alien creature rising up and invading the planet. Unlike this film, that one held a frightening, you-are-there immediacy, a palpable threat, and a rattling intensity to its every moment. That the protagonists were likable and well-defined as actual realistic people whose lives are suddenly turned upside down by an unthinkable event only aided in the viewer's enthralled apprehension. "Cloverfield" was, and is, a masterpiece in sci-fi moviemaking, a breathless, unforgettable, imagination-filled experience both horrific and loads of fun. That "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" references it is almost like some sort of sick joke. In virtually every way possible, this asinine affair of stale, mechanical buffoonery holds none of the valuable attributes of "Cloverfield."

Director Michael Bay and out-to-lunch screenwriters Ehren Kruger (2007's "Blood and Chocolate") and returning scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (2009's "Star Trek") contrast their hunks of alien metal with human characters who act and usually look as plastic as an American Express card. Amongst the lot of them, there isn't a single emotional connection made, and attempts at bringing personality to the robotic figures consist of giving them cornball one-liners such as, "Damn, I'm good!" and, "Punk-ass Decepticons!" When all else fails, ghetto-talkin', gold-teeth-wearin' duo Skids and Mudflap (both voiced by Tom Kenny) are tossed into the mix, representing such appalling black stereotypes that, yes, they even admit to being illiterate. Who in their right mind could have thought this was a good idea? Not to be outdone, Bay continues to strive for strictly unfunny slapstick humor in other places, too, turning Sam's mother, Judy (Julie White), into a whimpering caricature who curses a lot, cries even more, and then runs amok on her son's college campus after ingesting pot brownies from a Rastafarian drug dealer. There are not one, not two, but three humping jokes, two involving a Chihuahua and a pug, and the other between a Decepticon and Mikaela's leg. In another scene, a little person is cast as a traffic security guard for no reason other than to be ridiculed by being referred to as a "munchkin."

As an action picture, energy and momentum are nonexistent, the camerawork by Ben Seresin is shot too close to the subjects to distinguish half of what is going on, and the viewer at no point ever feels that danger or loss is imminent. When three people in a car take a vertical, 100-foot nosedive through the roof of a building and crash head-on into the ground, only to walk away completely unscathed, it's a pretty safe bet that they will be making it to the end credits fully intact. Every establishing shot of an automobile driving down the road is lensed like a car ad, while every shot of a helicopter or naval ship is lit and scored with the rah-rah jingoistic subtlety of a hammer cracking open a skull. Basic narrative coherence is tossed to the wayside, as well, with people hopping from the west to east coast with the snap of a finger, and then from New York City to Washington, D.C. as if it was nothing more than a stroll across the street. This location-switching craziness finally culminates with the heroes literally teleporting to Egypt, just in time for a third act that goes on about an hour in length but more accurately feels like an eternity in the fires of Hell. The climax set among hutches and pyramids is especially never-ending, helping to push the running time to an assaultive two and a half hours without giving the audience anything to care about or anyone to root for. That Sam's parents, snatched up from their vacation in Paris, abruptly show up in Egypt in time for the dreary, directionless pandemonium of the finale is purely nonsensical, though not nearly as laughable as the heart-to-heart between them where Sam squeezes his worried father's shoulder and earnestly tells him, "You gotta let me go, Dad. You gotta let me go."

The level of performance matches the picture's level of sophistication. He has drifted on natural charisma in the past, but Shia LaBeouf's (2008's "Eagle Eye") luck has finally run out. Granted, the script gives him nothing to work with, but he is merely going through the paces as Sam Witwicky. As Mikaela, Megan Fox (2008's "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People") chooses to sidestep the paces altogether, reciting her every line as if she is reading from cue cards and has no idea what emoting entails. So gorgeous that her skin remains flawless and her lip gloss glistens even after getting into multiple car crashes, fights and explosions, Fox acts like an ice queen whose only human warmth comes directly from her suntan. Her romance with LaBeouf is ineffectual; truth be told, Fox looks like she can barely stand to be in the same scene as her co-star, and pouts accordingly. In even lesser roles (if that can be imagined), Josh Duhamel (2006's "Turistas") and Tyrese Gibson (2008's "Death Race") are relegated to hardly having characters at all to play, and a mugging John Turturro (2009's "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3") returns for no discernible purpose other than to recite goofball lines of eye-rolling dialogue. Ramon Rodriguez (2008's "Pride and Glory") is beyond annoying as Sam's college roommate Leo, who tags along for the running time's duration, much to the chagrin of the viewer's sanity. And as classmate sexpot Alice, newcomer Isabel Lucas could give Megan Fox a run for her money on the hotness scale if it weren't for her utter inability to act her way out of a paper bag. The only thing more painful than watching this poor girl act is watching the movie she has found herself in.

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is an abject failure any way you spin it. It's heinously written. It's embarrassingly acted. It's snarkily directed by Michael Bay with his textbook superficiality at an all-time high. The action is conceived and presented as impersonal chaos, clunky and free of personal involvement. The comedy is a crime against the art form. The pseudo-melodrama is absurd, achieving the feat of simultaneously seeming both self-serious and disingenuous. The plot is a desperate death knell of hooey that can't be bought for a second because even Bay doesn't seem to buy it. Not only insensitive to race, ethnicity and physical disabilities, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is just as appalling to the human population as a whole. Akin to an implausibly expensive fart, the film stinks to high heaven, permeates and spreads like an airborne virus, and has all the charm of gout. Early word is describing this woebegone fiasco as the next "Batman and Robin." Having seen both, Joel Schumacher has every right to protest the comparison.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman