Director Michael Bay, the auteur behind such hits as The Rock, Armageddon, Bad Boys 1 and 2 and the Lionel Ritchie video for Do It to Me recently said that he doesn’t make movies for critics. Never has a truer statement been spoken. His latest film, Tranformers, continues his trend of making big, loud dumb movies that make a lot of money at the box office but leave critics reaching for the Advil.
In this update of the popular 80s animated kid’s show, hot young star Shia LaBeouf riffs on the geeky teen role he played earlier this year in Disturbia. He’s Sam, the high school nerd who thinks if he gets a cool car a cool girlfriend will soon follow. A used car salesman named Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) gives him a pseudo-mystical sales pitch about how he won’t really choose his own car, the car will choose him. Sure enough, as soon as he lays eyes on a beaten up yellow Corvette strange things start to happen. The car has spoken—literally.
Meanwhile, there’s a parallel story set in the Middle East. After a mysterious robot decimates an army base, the few survivors are airlifted back to the United States to report on the strange goings on.
Thanks to some narration at the beginning of the film we already know what Sam doesn’t, that evil Decepticons from the planet Cybertron are on there way to earth to battle the good Autobots and retrieve a powerful cube called the Allspark which holds the key to the survival of their planet. Both sides are tracking Sam because he unwittingly holds the map to locating the cube.
Not only does the Sam’s new car get good mileage, it also whizzes and whirls and turns into a giant yellow and black robot called Bumblebee. He’s kind of like Kitt from Night Rider, only way cooler and more versatile. Bumblebee’s job is to protect Sam, and in a funny early scene act as match maker by automatically tuning the radio to play seductive songs like Sexual Healing while Sam gives a lift to the school hottie Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox).
Soon, of course the two storylines fuse, and Sam and Mikela fight side-by-side with the special ops guys and the Autobots to battle the Decepticons and save the planet.
Transformers boasts great special effects—the all important transformation scenes are marvel of technical wizardry and the blending of live-action with the computer-generated elements is seamless—but more attention seems to have been paid to the animated characters than the real-life actors. LeBeouf is an extremely likeable actor, and well cast here, but Bay doesn’t require him to do much other than remain sympathetic and look at the camera with his large expressive doe eyes. Fox is relegated to the beautiful-but-tough female role, with little to do except wear revealing clothing and act as eye candy for the teenage boys in the audience. Josh Duhamel once again displays the kind of bland appeal that demonstrates why he’ll never be a full-fledged leading man.
Of all the actors the only John Turturro holds his own with the ever-mutating robots. As the mysterious Agent Simmons he’s so over-the-top he seems to be the only one in the cast who realizes that this is supposed to be big dumb fun. He alone looks like he’s having fun with his role.
Michael Bay knows, however, that Tranformers isn’t about the actors, it’s about the robots. The battle scenes are quite thrilling, even though they are so frenetic that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate the good ‘bots from the bad ‘bots. He also knows how to stage an action scene. This guy never met a building or car or city that he didn’t want to blow up in spectacular fashion—so take some sun screen, you could get a tan from the glare off the giant fireballs that light up screen.
Bay has delivered a movie that has all the ear marks of a big blockbuster summer movie, and one that will doubtlessly appeal to fans of the original series, but in the end could have benefited from more of a human touch.