The Island

Director Michael Bay once bragged about his use of quick cuts, never allowing a shot to linger more than a couple of seconds. So how come his films feel like marathons? Bay may be the master of blink-and-you’ ll-miss-it filmmaking, but he’ s also a slave to redundancy. He’ s like the annoying party guest who won’ t go home. First you’ re amused by his narratives, yet when it’ s time to say goodnight, there he is, yammering on and on, rehashing the same plot points.

The Island, Bay’ s latest barrage of sensory overload, thoughtfully starts off as an homage to Logan’ s Run and Coma, but before you can shout renew, degenerates into another exercise of crash and burn. Bay likes to throw money at the screen, turning action set pieces into larger-than-life, in-your-face spectacle which waste time and do little to advance the story. One wishes he would spend as much effort crafting a reasonably engaging screenplay about people instead of things that happen to people.

The people in The Island are actually clones, inhabitants of a futuristic, underground facility where every detail of their existence is controlled. Told they are survivors of world-wide contamination, the clones accept and believe their situation, hoping one day to win the lottery, an opportunity to move to The Island, the only sliver of paradise left on Earth.

When Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) begins experiencing phantom memories and dreams, project director Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) assures him all is well. Lincoln isn’ t sold, and during an attempt to convince recent lottery winner Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), propels them into an exhaustive cat and mouse chase leading them to a startling realization. Startling for them, predictable for anyone who has seen the coming soon trailer.

There is no contamination (unless you count the script), just another corporate madman with a God complex seeking to make money off the suffering of others. Lincoln and Jordan escape from the secret facility, setting off a massive manhunt which provides Bay with enough ammunition to blow up several films. Like babes in the woods, Lincoln and Jordan learn as they go, which could have provided the film with more laughs if Bay wasn’t so intent on blowing things up.

Instead of exploring the fish out of water angle, the writers fill in the gaps with an extended chase scene which gets more absurd and outrageous with every frame. If you like watching vehicles flip, twist, smash, crash and burn, then The Island will bring a smile to your face. If you go in expecting thoughtful discussions of controversial subjects like cloning and stem cell research, bring a book.

As director of Armageddon, Bad Boys I & II, and Pearl Harbor, Bay has established himself as an adult sufferer of childhood brat syndrome, unable to tell a story without throwing things and creating mass chaos. He has no shame. Bay would turn An Evening with Mark Twain into a four-hour river adventure with exploding paddlewheel boats.

As a clone of Logan’ s Run and Coma, The Island could have been the right movie at the right time, a social message masquerading as popular entertainment. The premise is ripe, but Bay and his wrecking crew let it die on the vine, turning their attention to one mindless close-call after another. This strum and dang works overtime to distance rather than draw the audience into the story. Lincoln and Jordan may be clones, but they must have gotten a little Energizer Bunny DNA tossed into their mix. Despite numerous near-death experiences, they keep on going and going and going. They’ re clones, not robots.

The Island is big, loud, and frequently annoying. As a film, it lacks the ability to transport us. It’ s more like an elaborate video game where death is just a pixilated rush. Except for a handful of players, we don’t care who dies because they’re nameless and soulless. Attempting to evade capture, Lincoln and Jordan unleash the contents of a flatbed truck into oncoming traffic, taking out the bad guys and numerous innocent drivers.

As the chase continues, more innocent people die, but who cares? Why should we care about Lincoln and Jordan’s survival (especially knowing they’re clones) when they are responsible for so much residual death? Buildings explode, giant signs crash to the street, mass transit gets derailed, but as long as Lincoln and Jordan make it out alive, everyone is happy.

Most filmmakers attempt to paint a face on tragedy (as Bay did so well during the initial attack scenes in Pearl Harbor), but with The Island Bay purposely avoids personal human suffering. The film also plays like a live-action cartoon where main characters always rebound no matter what you do to them. Dumping two-ton barbells into traffic kills everyone but the bad guys. You have to love the logic.

Ewan McGregor is sturdy as Lincoln Six Echo and his human donor Tom Lincoln. We actually feel a sense of innocence in Lincoln, whose vivid dreams lead him to believe not all is well in their rabbit hole. McGregor has the strength to prop up both the physical and emotional shoulders of a man questioning his existence. You just wish the writers gave him more to do.

Johansson strikes just the right cord as a woman coming to grips with her reality, slowly taking in bits and pieces of the puzzle until the picture becomes frighteningly clear. Her reaction to the clarity is convincing but arrives too late to make an impact.

As the film’s comic relief, Steve Buscemi delivers his trademark bite as a technician who literally holds the key to the clone’s survival. The Island comes alive when Buscemi enters the frame, and sadly withers when he leaves. Note to filmmakers: more Buscemi, less chase. Djimon Hounsou is ruthless as the special op team leader assigned to bring in the clones, while Bean is extremely pedestrian and predictable.

I don’t mind directors aping other films, but when they make a monkey out of the material and thus the audience, don’t be surprised when we fling crap back at the screen.

Clone Alone

Michael Bay’ s Island is No Paradise

The Island

Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Michael Clare Duncan. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated PG-13. 138 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $3.00

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