Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean, Steve Buscemi
If this were a Survivor game, you'd have to wonder if it would be possible for The Island to vote itself off itself. This should come as no great surprise, since The Island is a Michael Bay movie -- even if it is a Michael Bay movie that manages to squander the combined talents of Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean and Steve Buscemi. That's something of an accomplishment for Bay -- transcending his usual level of simple wastefulness, becoming wastefulness on a grand scale. Squandering the talents of Martin Lawrence, Bruce Willis, Cuba Gooding Jr. or Ben Affleck is, at worst, a misdemeanor. This is a felony.
What is a surprise here is that the first hour of the movie actually appears to be about something. It may a be a bit like a bad '70s sci-fi movie (you keep waiting for Farrah Fawcett to show up or someone to shout, "Soylent Green is people!") or a reheated serving of a Robin Cook novel, but the beginning of the film definitely has something on its mind. There are moments when The Island almost seems like a subversive commentary on the use of religion to control people (with the mythical island standing in for the promise of heaven and the "contaminated" outside world substituting for the threat of eternal damnation).
Oh, sure, there are time-outs for forced quirky "comedy," hideous expository dialogue ("It's called a God complex; all doctors have them") and, of course, the obligatory scene of homosexual panic to remind us that Michael Bay is behind it all. The setup -- a society of clones who are kept in ignorance of the fact that they're nothing but spare body parts to be harvested whenever their super-rich owners need a patch-up job -- is intriguing enough. (All right, it's hard not to wonder why there are only adult clones. Surely there must be some wealthy parents who'd break loose with a few million to ensure replacement parts for their little darlings.)
Unfortunately, this all goes to hell as soon as the first major character takes a bullet. Can he merely fall over a railing when he's hit? Oh, my, no. He has to crash through several levels of glass shelves on his way down. It's not especially cleverly shot; there's nothing remarkable about the presentation of the moment in any way. It merely adds noise to the soundtrack and ushers in the nonstop parade of car chases, shootings, explosions and wholesale destruction -- all presented with the finest production values money and product placement can buy.
In other words, this is quintessential Michael Bay. You can almost hear the director's sigh of relief that the plot is out of the way and he can get down to the serious business of assaulting the audience with a barrage of action set-pieces.
Is it well done? On its own terms, yes. The technical skill involved is impressive enough -- and the sequence where our heroes make their getaway with the aid of a truckload of train wheels is a remarkable display of effects work, mass destruction and second-unit action direction, even if it isn't much more than a less appalling variant on the chase scene with the flying corpses from the execrable Bad Boys II.
The whole thing can be classed under the heading of "standard summer movie fare" or "popcorn movie," if you're feeling charitably minded. For those not inclined to be quite so generous, phrases like "lowest-common-denominator filmmaking" and "ode to conspicuous consumption" may seem more suitable.
What plot remains once the film gets into gear makes little or no sense and is often predicated on the most absurd improbabilities. The clones come branded with identification marks on their wrists (like the "Made in Japan" birthmarks on the homicidal dolls in Seed of Chucky), yet no one thinks to check if the clone who was just iced has such a mark, leaving this to be discovered a reel later? Such plot devices ought to come complete with a home lobotomy kit to aid in viewer acceptance.
In the film's favor, it's a good 20 to 50 minutes shorter than Bay's last three exercises in excess. Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like it. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexuality and language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke