Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

“Why would you pay to see something you can see for free on TV?”
—Homer Simpson

If you’ve watched thw show you know the basic formula of it’s 18 years of success: Homer (Dan Castellaneta) screws-up, Bart (Nancy Cartwright) gets into trouble, Lisa (Yeardly Smith) fights for a lost cause, Marge (Julie Kavner) gets angry, and by the end of the episode everything turns out fine. Not surprisingly the script for this movie version holds true to form.

The main story involves the obsessions of Homer with a new pig and Lisa with cleaning up Lake Springfield. When these two storylines converge Springfield is put in danger (guess who’s to blame) and the family finds itself hated by their friends and hunted by President Arnold Schwarzenegger and the EPA.

The film is enjoyable and fans will not doubt flock to the theaters to have a chance to see their favorite characters on the big screen. However one does have to ask why this film was made, and why was it made now while the show is still in production? In one of the better jokes (though it rips-off Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (read the review) Homer asks the very same question.

What makes the film work are some good jokes and some clever moments which include divulging the location of Springfield as it borders the states of Ohio, Nevada, Kentucky, and Maine. This humorous geography also comes in handy when the family leaves town to go over the hill to Alaska. The film is full of short moments that remind you of who these characters are and why they have remained so popular.

Though not as good as I hoped the film should make fans happy; to me it comes off as an over-long television special event instead of a feature film. The Simpson family and the town’s eccentrics go through their usual paces, provide some laughs, and have some fun. By the way, if you do go make sure you stay through the credits for the several bonuses which include the family in a theater and Springfield anthem. Is it worth the money to pay for something you can still see new on television? Well, that’s such an obvious question that even Homer raises it, but sadly the film never supplies a satisfactory answer.

No Reservations

“You know better than anyone.
It’s the recipes you create yourself that are the best.”

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the head chef at an upscale New York restaurant. She’s also compulsive, anal, controlling, and a times what could be referred to as a bitch on wheels. All this changes when her sister dies in a car accident leaving her young daughter Zoe (Abigail Breslin) in Kate’s care. To make matters worse the owner of the restaurant (Patricia Clarkson) has hired a new chef (Aaron Eckhart) to spice things up and pick-up the slack in the kitchen as Kate deals with her grief and new responsibilities. You can guess where the story goes from here. Kate learns to be more open and accepting, Zoe struggles with her mother’s death and new surroundings, and the animosity between Kate and Nick turns into love just as movie romances always seem to do.

No Reservations isn’t a bad film, but it’s so predictable and tame that it more resembles a frozen dinner than cuisine. If not for the fact of casting three remarkably talented and likable leads the film would be almost completely unwatchable. Though the star power isn’t enough to turn this turkey into a swan it does enough to make the film at least palatable.

Before ending I must mention Bob Balaban who plays Kate’s therapist in the film, and despite his limited screentime, provides some much needed cynicism and dry wit to what otherwise is a pretty bland, if attractive, picture. The scenes between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart produce some moderate heat, but it’s in the scenes with Balaban that we learn there is more to Kate than the outside bitchy bravado she exudes so well.

The film may fill you up on its high fat content, but if you are truly starving for some food related cinema see if you can find Waitress (read that review) still playing in a small theater near your, or give Pixar’s Ratatouille a try. If you’ve already filled-up those, you can give this one a try

Talk to Me

To tell the truth I didn’t know who Petey Green was before walking into this film. The radio and television personality, the comedian, the ex-con, the activist, and the entertainer, is the focus of this new film by screenwriters Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa as told by director Kasi Lemmons. It’s an interesting tale that’s given life by some of the best working actors around today.

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) is a con artist and a convict. Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works for the local Washington D.C. radio station WOL. Through a chance meeting as Dewey visits his brother (Mike Epps) in jail a long, and often tumultous, friendship develops between the pair which lands Petey an opportunity as a disk jockey.

Martin Sheen provides a nice supporting performance as the radio station’s manager who is less than thrilled with putting a malcontent ex-con who speaks his mind on the air. Dewey’s gamble pays off however and Petey provides the voice the station and its listeners have been waiting for.

The film is bursting with great performances. Aside from the two leads, who will knock your socks off, and the nice turn by Sheen, the film also features Taraji P. Henson as Petey’s girlfriend and Cedric the Entertainer in a humorous and subdued performance as the Nighthawk. All are terrific.

If the film has a fault it’s that it bites off more than it can chew. As often is the case with biopics, directors and writers get caught up trying to tell the whole story and miss their opportunity to focus on the important parts of the tale in detail. The film follows Dewey and Petey from their first meeting through their ups and downs to their final farewell years later. Although the performance make even some of the slower moments entertaining, the script could have used a little polish.

The other comment I would make isn’t exactly a complaint but a quibble. Although the film portrays the characters and the situations with skill, and provides an examination to why Petey was important in this place and time (the Martin Luther King Jr. scene alone is amazing) the film never really discusses or alludes to the lasting impact of Petey Greene. Yes he was important and burned hot and fast before flaming out all too soon, but does his story and his work provide any lasting message? I would have preferred the film to have tried to put Petey’s life into a historical context, which it never seems to get around to doing.

Even if you hate the story (which I doubt will happen) the performances alone deserve to be seen. Ejiofor and Cheadle work together so well it will be interesting to see if either earns an Oscar nod and Henderson, as she has done in past films like Hustle & Flow, proves more than capable of keeping up with her talented lead actors. Here’s a film with something to show, and something to say. Why don’t you go out and give it a chance to talk to you.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


“Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left Earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload, a stellar bomb with a mass equalivant to Manhattan Island; our purpose, to create a star within a star.”

50 years into the future our sun is dying. One mission to restart the star has already failed; now the fate of the world and the entire human race rests in the hands of the crew of the Icarus II who will attempt a desperate mission to try and re-ignite the sun using all of the world’s remaining nuclear weapons.

It’s an interesting set-up as we begin with the crew already 50,000,000 miles away from Earth when the discovery of the first Icarus spacecraft and a small miscalculation put the lives of the crew, and the entire population of Earth, in jeopardy.

The crew of the Icarus II consists of the captain (Hiroyuki Sanada), the biologist (Michelle Yeoh), the psychologist (Cliff Curtis), the bomb expert (Cilian Murphy), the emotional female (Rose Byrne) whose role on the ship, other than being one of the crew’s girlfriend, isn’t well defined, the navigator (Benedict Wong), the hot-shot tough guy (Chris Evans), and the communications expert (Troy Garity).

One of the film’s flaws is that it fails to provide useful background information that would be helpful. We aren’t given any information about the crew, their pasts, or how they were chosen for this mission. Nor, and more troubling, is neither the ship’s layout nor many of its functions are explained or explored. All of the action in the film takes place in this series of metal tubes yet we are never given an idea of how it fits together. Events happen here or there on the ship, but no one seemed to figure out how the ship actually fits together and where these separate compartments fit into the overall scheme. This becomes both distracting and at times confusing. When there is a hull breach or fire, which parts of the ship are in jeopardy? Which might be closed off? We can’t tell because no one has bothered to let us in on where anything on the ship is located.

More troubling than this however is the final third of the film. The set-up works well enough and the characters seem to deal naturally with the issues and problems that arise. Then, out of nowhere, the film strops behaving like a science fiction film and quickly turns into a thriller/monster flick. I won’t give away how or why this happens (both disappointing in themselves) but just state that the effect of this genre shift is felt in all aspects of the film. The tone shifts drastically as the intelligent struggle of the early film is lost in the mindless chases and gore of the final scenes. And the beautiful look of the film, the wide sweeping majestic shots of the ship and of space, disappears in favor of steady cam, blurry special effects, odd lighting, and quick-cuts that make you wonder when you stepped out of the movie theater and got on this unscheduled roller-coaster ride. What’s so troubling is this odd change isn’t necessary; in the first two-thirds of the film character conflicts and real problems provide enough suspense to keep you invested much more than these late antics could ever wish to achieve.

Is it as good as recent doomsday flicks such as The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, or even Armageddon? No, but it provides some nice visuals and, for two-thirds of its running time, a compelling story. Early comparisons to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or last year’s The Fountain (read that review) are going to raise expectations far too high for a film like this to measure up. But if you are a sci-fi fan and you can overlook a pretty disappointing final act and focus on the positvies of the film you should have a reasonably good time.

Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn isn’t a fun movie, but it is a well made film with a collection of strong performances that provide stark drama in the jungles of southeast Asia. Based of the true story of the only American POW to ever make it out of the Laotian jungle, it’s an experience to remember. In 1997 director Werner Herzog captured Dieter Dengler’s life in his documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly; now ten years later Herzog returns to give us a film based on his remarkable tale.

On his first flight Navy pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is shot down over the jungles of Laos. He survives for days on his own before being captured and taken to a POW camp deep in the Laotian jungle.

In the camp Dieter meets other prisoners including Eugene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies) from Eugene, Oregon who is positive the war will end and they will be released any day and Duane Martin (Steve Zahn). There are many other smaller roles in the film, but the friendship and conflict between these three characters represents the core of the film.

For months Dieter survives in the camp as he and the other prisoners are slowly starved (each actor lost a terrifying amount of weight for these roles), with only one thing on his mind - escape!

The performances are all first rate, and although Bale carries the bulk of the film smaller performances from the likes of Zahn and Davies also need to be recognized.

Herzog and the film have taken some heat from Jerry DeBruin, who was critical at how his brother was depicted as both a coward and a man who had long ago lost the best parts of his mind. The performance of Davies in the role is quite memorable. Artistic license is the price you pay in films like these which are either “based on” or “inspired by” true events. Even if Herzog has taken some liberties, as writers and directors are prone to do when adapting a story to screen, in order to create a more interesting film, the conflict between Eugene and Dieter in the camp provides some terrific tense moments that help sell the story on screen. In a strictly historical context there may be issues, but in terms of how the characters interact and move the story along it simply works, and works well.

Rescue Dawn is a terrific little film in terms of acting and in simple and direct storytelling. Herzog strips away the Hollywood trappings and gives us a minimalist look at one man’s journey through hell and his struggle to get home. After seeing the film I imagined what a director like Michael Bay would have done with such a project and shivered. It’s also nice to see Zahn in a role where he isn’t playing merely the fool or comic sidekick. His comic timing mixed with his fear and immense sadness prove that he, like his fellow actors in this film, can play a multitude of emotion on screen. After playing for a few weeks in limited release the film opens wide today; if you’ve got the time, and can find it playing in your area, you should give Rescue Dawn a chance; I think you will be glad you did.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

“A Jay and Silent Bob movie; who would pay to see that?”

After discovering that a movie is being made from the comic book based off their misadventures, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) travel cross country to stop the film from being made. Along the way they meet a hitchhiker (George Carlin), a nun (Carrie Fisher), and a lesbian gang of thieves (Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter, Eliza Dushku, Jennifer Schwalbach). The girls steal diamonds using the clueless duo of stoners for dupes.

With an orangutan they stole from an animal testing center, Jay and Silent Bob try to make their way to Hollywood staying one-step in front of Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell) and a host of policemen (including an almost unrecognizable Judd Nelson) who are hot on their trail.

The film brings back several character from the previous View Askew films. From Clerks we get the Quick Stop along with Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson). From Mallrats we get Brodie (Jason Lee) who now owns his own comic book shop (the shop used for the film is Kevin Smith’s own place in Redbank, NJ - Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash). From Chasing Amy we get Holen (Ben Affleck), Spanky (Jason Lee), Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), and Hooper (Dwight Ewell).

Although no characters from Dogma make an appearance (except Alanis Morissette‘s cameo at the end of the credits - no rubber poop monsters here), several props do show up including the Buddy Christ and the Mooby’s fast food restaurant. Others like Chris Rock and Shannen Dougherty come back from other pictures, but they playing different roles.

The fast paced movie includes several fun bits like Jay and Silent Bob having a lightsaber fight with Cocknocker (Mark Hamill) in a not-too-subtle, but very fun, Star Wars parody. The other parodies include Planet of the Apes, Scooby Doo, and a humorous peek inside the Miramax backlot where films like Good Will Hunting 2 are shooting (Affleck and Matt Damon play themselves).

The film is full of such scenes as the characters travel across America. Not all the scenes work. The Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek scene came off a little dated at the time of the film’s opening (and so even more so today). Most of my complaints were small scenes like this, but I felt the main story treads seemed to hold the film together enough to enjoy the story and still progress it to the conclusion.

The only main character that didn’t work for me was Ferrell’s Willenholly who comes off too silly for even this very silly film. His campy scene munching performance really seems to slow the film down and doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the film’s plot threads.

This “dick and fart joke” movie seems like Kevin Smith responding to his critics who disliked his early work and dismissed it as dialogue heavy, dirty joke, pointless slacker films. They weren’t, but that can be a very valid description of this film.

Not all the humor is easily dismissive crude jokes. I’ll end this section with two of my favorite lines from the film, one of which fits the crude humor stereotype, but the other is actually quite clever - in fact it’s the best description of the Internet I’ve heard to date.

“Yo baby you ever had your asshole licked by a fat man in an overcoat?”

“The Internet is a communication tool used the world over where people can come together to bitch about movies and share pornography with one another.”

This two-disc Dimension Collector’s Series editon contains a commentary track with Smith, Mewes, and Scott Mosier (though sadly none of the other returning cast or newcomers in the supporting cast). The second disc contains deleted scenes with introductions by Smith and various View Askew regulars, a gag reel, TV spots and trailers, a making of the movie featurette, a featurette on dancing with Morrris Day and the Time, the “Becuase I Got High” and “Kick Some Ass” videos, Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy Special,” cast and crew filmographies, still galleries, and storyboards.

As a stand alone film its hard to judge the film which is really a series of inside jokes and celebration of a cult fandom universe - in fact to get all the references you’ll need to take a peek at the Bluntman and Chronic and Jay and Silent Bob graphic novels in addition to all the films. Is it a great film? No, not really - but there are enough good jokes and fun moments to keep the well paced madcap action going and entertain you. Fans of Smith’s other films will enjoy the View Askew’s self referential jokes and situations and will no doubt enjoy the movie much more than the casual observer.


“I wish every day was Negro Day.”

Hairspray is a toe-tappin’ good time with a strong cast, good music, and plenty of fun. It would be easy to dismiss it as simply a feel good story and the discovery of first-time actress Nikki Blonksy (who was found, in all places, at a Coldstone Creamery). But beneath the film’s smiles, laughs, dances, and shakes, there’s a story about acceptance and struggle, about a willingness to sacrifice for doing what you believe is right, no matter what it may cost you.

Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is your average teen who daydreams in school about being a celebrity. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) race home every day to catch the Corny Collins Show on television. Hosted by Corny Colins (James Marsden) the dance show is the hippest thing in all of Baltimore.

From here the story breaks into two parts, that are surprisingly wll meshed together. The first involves Tracy earning a spot on the show despite her size and the concerns of her mother Edna (John Travolta), her crush on Link Larkin (Zac Efron) and her hopes to win Miss Hairspray against the beautiful but malelovent Amber Van Tussle (Brittany Snow).

The other story of the film is the segregation of Baltimore in general, and the Corny Collins Show in particular. Managed by Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) the show promotes 50’s values and separate but equal. Once a month the show allows Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) to host “Negro Day,” which is becoming a little too popular with the kids in Velma’s opinion.

The stories merge when “Negro Day” is cancelled and Tracy must decide whether to stand-up for her new friends or play it safe and keep her spot as a star of the show.

Performance wise the film is a treat. Each actor is well-placed. Blonsky steals the show in a terrific and almost unbelievable performance by a complete unknown. Bynes is terrific in the role of the slightly-spazzy best friend; Bynes, who doesn’t have the moves or voice of some of the other performers is used well here for her comic timing and simple but terrific reactions to the situations she finds herself in.

Both Snow and Pfeiffer are well-cast as the villainous vixens in the film, and Allison Janey puts in a nice small role as Penny’s over-religious mother. Also worth noting are Efron, Marsden - who is finally given a role to show-off his voice, Taylor Parks, Elijah Kelley, and Christopher Walken, all of who provide wonderful moments both acting and singing.

My only complaint with the cast is John Travolta trussed up in drag and a fat suit to play Edna Turnblad. No matter how good Travolta is, he’s always John Travolta in a fat suit rather than a real character in the film. I know this might of sounded like a good idea, wait a moment, no, it never sounded like a good idea. In a film like Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams can get away with the suit because we’re in on the joke that it’s a guy pretending to be a woman. Here, for the character of Edna to work, we have to accept Travolta as a woman. There’s just not enough Hollywood magic around to make that happen.

I haven’t mentioned Queen Latifah or the music of the film yet. Let me do both here. Latifah shines in the small supporting role and gives the film deeper meaning in her performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been,” for my money the best song in a film with quite a few nice numbers. If Blonsky provides the heart of the film this song provides its soul. The march which occurs late in the film reminded me of a time when this country banded together, united, to stand up against injustice. I don’t know where along the way we lost this sense of unity, purpose, and righteousness, but we need to find it again.

Is it a little simplistic to believe that dancing can overcome segregation and racism. Perhaps, but also remember that entertainment and sports have long led the way in helping to break down color barriers. And even if it is a little hard to believe, it’s a wonderful dream. Here’s a film with a good message and some great songs. Other than Nancy Drew (read that review) there haven’t been many nice family films this summer, but here’s one the whole family can enjoy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

You Kill Me

“My drinking is interfering with my work. That’s why I’m here, so I can get sober and go back to killing people full time.”

After botching an important assignment Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) is shipped out of Buffalo to sunny San Francisco to get control of his drinking problem which is interfering with his work - killing people for the Polish mob.

After arriving in San Fransisco Frank is put up in an apartment and given a job in a funeral home by a friend of his bosses back home (Bill Pullman). He begins to attend AA meetings, finds a friend and a sponsor (Luke Wilson) and meets and falls for a lonely woman (Tea Leoni). For the first time Frank takes an honest look at his life and realizes he needs to get better so he can return to Buffalo and get back to the work he is so good at - killing people.

Much like The Matador (read that review) the film balances the issues of killing and death with a certain amount of whimsy and some fairly dark humor. The AA scenes are some of the best in the film, especially when Frank decides to come clean with everyone about what it is he does.

Kingsley carries the picture and does a fine job balancing the depth and depression of the character with the story’s dark wit. Leoni, who has never been a favorite of mine, comes off good here as her inherent awkwardness is used as part of the character. The love story between the pair works because it is absent of any Hollywood trappings. Here are two lonely people that connect out of loneliness and find comfort in each other. In some ways it’s an anti-Hollywood romance. The film also contains a strong supporting cast worth mentioning including Pullman, Philip Baker Hall, Dennis Farina, and Lorraine James.

Sure the premise of the film is more than a little flimsy, and why Frank is sent to San Fransisco is never satisfactorily explained, but there is plenty here to enjoy including some truly funny comic moments, good lead and supporting performances, and last but certainly not least, a wit and intelligence far beyond the average summer film. Sure the movie has it’s share of contrived situations, but it’s off-beat nature and skewed humor do quite a bit in creating an enjoyable little film that is worth a look.


What if your child had always been a little odd, and you eventually began wondering if he wasn’t evil? Joshua asks this question, and the result is a mixed, though memorable, result that, although I can’t recommend, is still better than expected.

To the causual observer the Cairn’s are your typical upper-middle class family. Brad (Sam Rockwell) works too hard in an investment company, Abby (an almost unrecognizable Vera Farmiga) stays home and takes care of their son Joshua (Jacob Kogan) and thier newborn daughter Lily. Scratch the surface however and you’ll find plenty of troubles in the Cairn home.

To begin with Abby has a history of mental problems and increasing anxiety over not being able to care for her new baby. And then there’s Joshua who, to put it politely, is a little off. When the family begins to spiral out of control Brad begins to suspect that everything can be traced to one cause - his son. Is this young nine-year-old responsible for it all?

Although the film doesn’t quite work, it does a good job in presenting the unraveling of the main characters of the story. Farmiga gives a nice performance as a woman who slowly becomes completely unhinged. Such a performance could easily slip into melodrama (as other aspects of the film do), but Farmiga brings a stark realism to the role that helps hold the film together.

Another nice choice is to present Joshua as odd and creepy, but not necessarily evil (at least through the first two-thirds of the film). This allows the possibility for the audience that he may or may not be the cause of all the family’s troubles. Of course this is thrown away in the rushed, and more than a little ridiculous, last act of the film.

In terms of tone Joshua can never quite figure out what film it wants to be. There is some nice rising tension throughout the film, but it is also undercut by some hilarious, sometimes intentional sometimes not, moments as well. If it had gone for either straight cheese or a true thriller it would have been better served. And the constant piano score, which I’m assuming was an attempt to add drama and suspense, becomes more and more preposterous as the film goes on.

One final criticism. As the film moves between the odd and the laughable and back again, it wastes the talents of some nice supporting actors like Michael McKean in pointless and unnecessary supporting roles. Though the film provides a good character for Farmiga, and a somewhat memorable one for Koogan, many of the smaller characters seem more like unnecessary distractions that parts of a larger story.

I’m not sure who the target audience is for this film. Modern horror fans will probably find the lack of gore and body counts to be exasperating, and suspense/thriller fans will find the odd tone and humor to get in the way of the story. Still, it’s a film that tries to do something more than your brain-dead average summer Hollywood fare, and even with its issues there are some elements and performances to enjoy (and sometimes mock).

Monday, July 2, 2007

Michael Bay's Transformers

As a kid I had Transformers toys, I watched the television series without fail, and collected the original Marvel Comics Transformers series (all 80 issues and those lame cross-over mini-series too!). So the fanboy in me was ecstatic when I learned that a live-action film of the comics, television show, and toys I grew up with was going to be attempted. But when I heard that Michael Bay was going to head the project I felt less than thrilled. Remember, this is from the guy who defended The Island, but I still doubted whether Bay could translate the stories of my youth to the big screen. I shouldn’t have worried because he didn’t even try. There isn’t a single recognizable moment from the Transformers of my childhood other than you’ve got robots that transform into objects and vehicles. I am deeply saddened that Bay and his writers didn’t trust the source material and the original character designs and mythology choosing instead to throw out over twenty-years of history to do it their own way. The result is less, far less, than meets the eye.

Where to begin? The movie is called Transformers but it’s a pretty misleading title as the Transformers themselves are shoved into the background. The focus, instead, is on the humans in the film.

The main storyline involves Sam (not Spike, no they couldn’t even get his name right!) Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his infatuation with a beautiful classmate (Megan Fox) and dealing with his parents (Kevin Dunn, Julie White) and learning about the important discovery of his ancestor (W. Morgan Sheppard) in the arctic.

There’s also the tale of an army platoon in the deserts of the Middle East which is almost completely wiped out by an large mechanical scorpion. The survivors (Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson) battle their way home. So instead of epic Autobot vs. Decepticon battles we get to watch Tad Hamilton and the guy from 2 Fast 2 Furious attempt to save the day. Joy!

The third storyline involves Defense Secretary John Keller (Jon Voight) enlisting the help of a bunch of kids (Rachael Taylor, Colin Fickes, Tom Lenk) to uncover the source of top secret transmissions. Yeah… I’m sure the government always pulls in students from local schools and gives them access to top secret information all the time when something like this happens. Riiiiight. There’s also a subplot about a top secret (meaning high school students must run its web page) government agency, run by Agent Simmons (John Turturro), who know more than they are letting on.

Have you noticed we have spent this much time on plot and haven’t talked about Transformers yet? See, in a movie called Transformers, that’s a problem.

Since the main storylines are cluttered with human characters the Transformers themselves aren’t given enough screentime to make them fully developed characters. Bay and his team instead use the big robots for action sequences, explosions, and stunts, making what should be the stars of the film into little more than special effects.

Aside from how they are presented there are numerous problems with the Transformers themselves. First, because the film made a deal with GMC all the vehicles must be GMC vehicles. This means that none of Autobots, in robot form or in vehicle form look correct. Bumblebee is a Camaro? Ironhide is a silver pick-up? Ratchet is a yellow and red Hummer? I realize some changes might have to be made, but this is like making a Knight Rider film with K.I.T.T as a blue mini-van or casting Will Ferrell to play Shaft. It just doesn’t work because anyone with half a brain know not to try. What, was there no one with even half a brain attached to this project?

Even Optimus Prime, the closest looking to the original model, is vastly different. It also doesn’t help when Peter Cullen is the only original voice to return for the film and several of Transformers including Soundwave (who gets a ridiculous looking make-over here) speak in a clicking dialect which I’m assuming is supposed to make pre-pubescent boys laugh. There is no logical explanation as to why some of these extremely advanced machines understand English fluently and others do not. And forget any of the tapes showing up, all this Soundwave does is look goofy and shoot out pointy cd’s at people. No Rumble, no Ravage, and no Laserbeak here.

Whle were on the subject of mistakes Prowl was an Autobot and a police car. Yet in the film Prowl is a Decepticon who they have renamed Barracade. Huh? If you can’t even get the look and characteristics of the characters right what’s the point in making the movie? In total there are only about a dozen Transformers in the movie (no Wheeljack, no Sideswipe, no Sunstreaker, no Shockwave, and no Dinobots) but aside from one scene where Prime introduces the five Autobots to Sam there is no differentiating the characters to the audience. Even this scene is played for laughs, rather than to introduce the characters, as the robots all act like the films and television signals they have been listening too. Wow, whose three-year-old came up with that joke?

One of my favorite Transformers is Megatron, leader of the Decepticons who spends most of the film frozen in statsis, and after he’s melted it gets really bad. For starters he is unrecognizable. He’s not a gun or a tank (like in later incarnations of the character); he doesn’t even have his trademark laser canon! Instead he’s some huge BeastMaster looking thing who growls and spits out dialogue like the Incredible Hulk. Seriously, I kept waiting for him to say “Megatron SMASH!” The original voice of Megatron was Earl Hammond who chose to die back in 2002 rather than live on to be a part of this fiasco. Lucky bastard. He is voiced here by Hugo Weaving whose distinctive voice is impossible to understand or pick-out from the growling and drooling this Megatron seems to enjoy. This terrific movie villain is turned into the Big Bad Wolf. It would be sad if it weren’t so unintentionally funny. And can someone explain to me why a robot needs fangs?

Ignoring the myriad of problems above, for a moment, let’s get down to why the Transformers are on Earth. Rather than using the explanation from the original series or comic, the writers create a mysterious life-giving cube called “the All-Spark” which can give life to any mechanical object. How it does this isn’t even considered, let alone explained. The All-Spark is on Earth and both sides want it. What’s odd about the All-Spark is each time it is unintentionally used it makes nearby machines turn into mass-murdering Decpeticons. Why does it turn all machines evil? The script does it for cheap laughs at having people run for their lives from a Coke machine, but by doing so it raises the question - are all machines inherently evil? If so, how does that explain the Autobots? If not, why doesn’t the All-Spark create any Autobots? These are the types of questions which will drive you crazy as you watch this film.

We’ve gotten this far without discussing the many and myriad logic holes throughout the film. First off the the movie contains several scenes where these huge metal robots tiptoe around public areas and are completely unseen as they cause destruction with every step. There’s also a scene where Soundwave leaves a grounded Air Force One, walks across the runway whistling and gets into a car and drives off without a single person noticing. There is a limit to my disbelief and this film stretches far, far beyond.

I’ve said before that the film seems geared to pre-pubescent boys. That’s certainly where the humor lies with two urination jokes, a masturbation joke, and several provocative shots at the young teen leading lady. All well and good for the twelve-year-old next to me, but how about something for the rest of us to enjoy too?

Fans, and critics, of Bay’s films will also find several of his trademark touches including the obligatory sassy black characters (Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson, Esther Scott - we can always count on Bay to put race relations back fifty-plus-years with each film), huge and increasingly ridiculous special effects (count how many times Sam’s body alone should be crushed throughout the film, wait - you’d have to see the film to do that, nevermind) and trademark scenes of military personel and vehicles set to rising music intended to make your patriotism swell (there are shots I am positive were lifted straight out of Pearl Harbor).

A final note. This is a personal objection I have to the movie. Over the course of the film military personnel in camaflogue combat fatigues battle in bombed out buildings in the desert and in cities which are at times eerily similar to current events in the Middle East. Others may not be offended by the film’s bad taste in the use of such images, but for me it was just one more mistake in an ever-increasing list of things gone wrong with this film.

Other than some nice transformations of robots to vehicles and back again and a couple big action sequences (which you can find in countless other, and better, films) there is nothing worth watching in this movie. Fans of the orginial characters will be deeply disappointed. Those unfamiliar with the characters may not feel the lack of nostalgia I did, but they will still be trapped in a dumb action flick without much enjoyment or sense for almost two-and-a-half hours. What a waste of $150,000,000.