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Judge Bryan Byun's Blog

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Michael Bay Lite: The Island (2005)
July 25th, 2005 1:09AM

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Michael Bay fan. For most film critics, especially the extremely sober, serious type who get all trembly in the knees at the mere whisper of a new Atom Egoyan film, Bay is the cinematic equivalent of Lord Voldemort. It's not hard to see why; his movies are loud, vulgar, shot like perfume commercials, edited by spastic chipmunks, and so aggressively dumb they make Tony Scott look like Ingmar Bergman.

This bothers some people. Not me. To me, there's a time and a place for the kind of movie that Michael Bay makes, and if you're gonna go that way, you may as well go all the way. Some nights you want a martini, and some nights you want cheap rotgut that'll make your head feel like an ashtray at a cigar party. Michael Bay doesn't do poignant meditations on the human condition; he does mindless, testosterone-soup action flicks that blow stuff up real good. And in that arena, he's one of the three or four best in the world. If you don't believe me, compare some weak wanna-be crap like S.W.A.T. with The Rock. When he's at the top of his game, as with Bad Boys II, Bay can inspire the kind of breathless, "Did I just see what I thought I saw?" disbelief that I only ever experience with John Woo's HK pictures. Say what you will about Bay, he can create moments of pure cinema like few other filmmakers. He paints in car crashes like artists paint in oils. He's the Michelangelo of carnage.

Which is why I started to worry about his latest flick, The Island, when I read the reviews and saw that quite a few critics who normally eviscerate Michael Bay movies actually liked this one, or at least didn't slather it with the usual spittle-flecked fury. I was hearing things like "Bay actually goes ten seconds without a cut," and "nothing blows up in the entire first act." Disturbing. The last time Bay tried to make a real movie, it turned out to be Pearl Harbor, the only one of his films that I consider a total dog. I want to see Bay do a "normal" movie the way I want to hear Motorhead do an album of Carpenters covers (actually, I'd give my left foot, or at least fifteen bucks, to hear that, but you get my point).

Having seen it, I can say that my worst fears weren't confirmed -- yes, a car was cut in half, and yes, stuff blew up real good -- but The Island didn't quite deliver what I go to a Michael Bay movie for, either. It turns out to be a reasonably entertaining sci-fi action movie, with some nifty performances by Ewan McGregor (who makes the most of his dual role) and Scarlett Johansson (who seems to have fun with the kind of character who isn't asked to do much other than get yanked around by the arm for two hours). It's Logan's Run for the 00's, with everything, including cheesy badness, that implies. You saw the trailer, you recognize the names; if you didn't get more or less what you wanted out of this movie, you were in the wrong auditorium.

Then why was it so underwhelming? I guess because I could tell Bay was ratcheting it down in this one, going family-friendly PG-13 instead of hard R. Nothing wrong with that, in theory, except that I'm left wondering exactly to whom this movie is going to appeal. As a science fiction movie, it's too obvious and shallow to approach Minority Report. As an action flick, it's too tame to replicate the "this one goes to eleven" bullet-porn of Bad Boys II. Any movie this conventional needs to be a remake or part of some franchise in order to grab and hold an audience, and The Island is neither. I went in hoping for a sinus-clearing swig of Mad Dog 20/20, and instead I got a glass of chardonnay. If this is what comes of Bay splitting from Jerry Bruckheimer, here's me hoping for a reunion, pronto.


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