Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Island

As I explained in my previous column, I have been somewhat incommunicado recently due to what one can only call an enforced stay at an exclusive, if rather dreary tropical resort called Gizmo or Gitmo or some such name. I have been unable to locate it in my Frommer's guide to give all of my enchanting readers more details. Suffice it to say that it lacks many of the amenities of even the most moderately priced prix fixe communities and I would suggest you book with Club Med or Sandals for your sunshine and surf needs. The cuisine was repetitive, the decor very Bauhaus brutalistic with far too much modern sculpture in what appeared to be razor wire and the staff ever so rude. I assume they were French.

Soon after my arrival, I was chatting with the hotel director who kept talking about extraordinary rendition. Now, I am absolutely known for my extraordinary renditions of entertainment masterpieces so I decided to give him and his colleagues an impromptu performance of one of my great hits, Bomb Me Baby from my musical Puttin On The Blitz. You must remember it. It's the number in which I lead two dozen tap dancing chorines dressed as WACs in a carefully choreographed routine on the wings of a B-52 bomber as it's fire-bombing Dresden. It must have been new to these gentlemen though, as they sat there open mouthed through the entire song. I expected at least a booking in the lounge for the rest of my stay but they seemed to have forgotten their manners and returned me to an even smaller and more dismal guest room.

Enclosed and dystopic vacation resorts being on my mind, while channel surfing last night, I stumbled across Michael Bay's film from last summer, The Island starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. The opening scenes were somewhat reminiscent of my recent vacation so I decided to spend a couple of hours with this mindless popcorn film. Like most of Michael Bay's works, there are chases, explosions, expensive cars, and few recognizable human characters on screen.

It's the future and the world has been seriously damaged by a 'contamination'. The survivors run around a large, spotlessly clean enclosed city that looks suspiciously like a left over set from Logan's Run. They drink vegetable cocktails, seem indifferent to sex, and all hope to win the lottery that will allow them to escape to a magical non-contaminated tropical island. Clad in spotless identical white track suits and working at make-work jobs under the eyes of black suited supervisors, it doesn't take us long to figure out that all is not as it seems on the surface. Our hero, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), begins to question why he has a meaningless job, bad dreams and faulty memories and what lies outside his sterile environment. When he realizes that Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), is not a benevolent ruler and that he and his companions are little better than lambs to the slaughter, he grabs Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) and the two of them escape to the outside with the help of a greasy maintenance man (Steve Buscemi). They then have to deal with the outside world and alert society as to the monstrous goings on within their former home.

The plot is infused with elements of other, better dystopian science fiction/fantasy including Brave New WorldBlade Runner and THX-1138. Michael Bay's major contribution is to devote the second act of the film to endless souped up chase scenes as our heroes try to elude both the police and mercenaries hired by Dr. Merrick led by Djimon Hounsou. I imagine his character has a name, but as he's strictly a plot device, it's relatively unimportant. Our heroes ride levitating trains, jet bikes, survive truck crashes, bouncing railroad wheels (a strange anomaly in a world where the trains have no rails), and a fall from a fifty story building encased in a large neon sign. By the time it's all said and done, all I could think of was the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. I was expecting them to run off a cliff, hover in the air for several seconds with a quizzical look and fall to the desert floor only to bounce and then be smacked by a train.

McGregor and Johansson make a handsome couple but have little chemistry together, mainly due to plot reasons. Their characters are a little naive when it comes to the more erotic matters in life. Even when they heat it up at the end, it's a bit like watching Barbie and Ken. Both stars are game, and try to make something from what they've got - which isn't much. McGregor does get a dual role and has a bit of fun sending himself up in his secondary part. Sean Bean takes what could be a camp villain and, instead, tries to make him cool and collected - the result, in the midst of the mayhem, is that he's rather boring and we don't particularly care about him one way or the other. The only truly enjoyable performance comes from Steve Buscemi doing his usual quirky everyman. Unfortunately, he disappears from the film early on, leaving little but explosions and crashes to keep us from falling asleep for the next hour or so.

The film was an enormous failure financially. Its production cost being estimated at well over 120 million and its US box office return being less than 40 million. The visual design is interesting, the special effects are spectacular, but with no characters to care about and a plot that seems cobbled together from bits and pieces of better films and stories, the whole enterprise comes across as dreary and hollow and it's no wonder that audiences stayed away in droves. I can't say I'm sorry I've seen the film, but I'm very glad I did not pay $10 to see it in the theater. Not only would I have been disappointed, I would have been deaf for a week from the roar of all those explosions in six track Dolby.

Amino acid injections. Lethal injections. Hand nailed to door. Gratuitous moth. Collapsing letter R. Rattlesnake encounter. Gas chamber escape. Carbon hulled yacht.

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