Directed by Michael Bay. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight. (2007, PG-13, 140 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 6, 2007
I should say right up front I was never a fan of Hasbro's Transformers toys. Cheap plastic compared with their sometime toy-store rivals – Mego's smaller, cooler all-metal Micronauts – the Transformers always struck me as boy-toy overkill. I mean, really, robots that morph into diesel rigs? It's already a freaking robot, so why bother devolving into a Matchbox truck? Invariably, in my backyard universe, the Transformers always ended up on the wrong side of a cherry bomb, smoking globs of molten slag that put the lie to their shape-shifting braggadocio. Take that, you. Bay's big-budget adaptation of the eternal battle between good (the Autobots, led by big-cheese Optimus Prime) and evil (the Decepticons, fronted by the towering, glowering Megatron, who, frankly, have nothing on indie-pop darlings Le Tigre's righteously catchy tune) is vastly more entertaining than you might suspect. It's a stripped-down, chopped, locked, and loaded Bay-gasm – a sensory overload of action/sci-fi clichés that works, mostly, thanks to some ingenious CGI work courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic and the full-bore, whining, grinding, whirring, and screeching sound design of Erik Aadahl, which transforms what could have been just another chunk of overlong, overloud summer crud into a fully immersive action mindblower. That said, Transformers is about as clever as an unplugged blender: Take away the many effects crews who so clearly gave their all, and what you're left with wouldn't pass muster in Georges Méliès' time. Former Even Stevenser LaBeouf meets a thousand tons of sentient technology as the hormone-laden teen Sam Witwicky, which is cool, sure, but what he'd really like to get into is gearhead sex bomb Mikaela's (Fox) lowrider jeans. Initially, Sam's interest in complex technologies dead-ends with how to best navigate this hawt babe's zipper, but before long this carbon-based pair is embroiled in a battle for the fate of Earth itself (which is a pretty good metaphor for being a teen, come to think of it). What matters most about Transformers isn't subtext (this is Michael Bay we're dealing with), thank goodness, but what happens when big, loud, heavy things bang into other differently colored big, loud, heavy things. And it's here that the director once more proves himself to be at the top of the heap when it comes to cinematic knock-down, drag-out summertime actioneering. As sly, sci-fi-matinee idolatry, Transformers works just fine if you set your mental phasers to "dumb" and just go with it, ignoring the preposterously ponderous expositional dialogue and focusing instead on the kickass sight of gigantic Tonka Toys beating the hell out of each other. And, as an added incentive, you can witness former Midnight Cowboy Voight as a sort of über-Donald Rumsfeld and former Coen brothers buddy Turturro as a wildly miscast FBI heavy. Barton Fink vs. killer robots? Maybe I'm wrong about that whole lack-of-subtext thing after all.