The Island (2005)

(In theaters, July 2005) Oh, how Michael Bay teases me so. He knows that I like good Science Fiction. He knows that I like his glossy filmmaking style, even though I wish he’d tone down the pacing of his cuts once in a while. He knows that I love intricate action sequences. The prospect of a movie bringing all of that together had me salivating, but as usual the reality doesn’t come up to the potential of the premise. Part One of The Island is a glossy, stylish study of social control where everything isn’t what it appears to be: a bit flawed, but better than what we usually see in big summer blockbusters. The second part is what we see in big summer blockbuster: a dumb and lengthy chase involving gunfights and explosions. Not bad, but we’ve seen this before, in other Michael Bay movies. The third part is where the movie sputters and dies thanks to silly by-the-numbers plotting, unexplainable developments and an anticlimactic finale. The logical flaws of the film are too numerous to describe, but let’s just say that the security problems alone are worth a seminar. Despite the good eye for details and some initial promise, The Island just stops working after a while, and even the action scenes seem like bad clones of what Bay has done before. Neither Ewan MacGregor nor Scarlett Johansen do much with what they’ve got (Johansen, particularly, seems particularly bland in a role that could have been played by just about anyone): only Steve Buscemi can be relied upon to inject some life in the whole thing. I really wanted to give this film a chance. Unfortunately, it crumbles upon itself without much scrutiny.

(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2006) There isn’t much to say about the film, because a second viewing pretty much confirms the first one: Good first third, fun middle section, dumb third act. The only thing worth noticing about the DVD edition is Michael Bay’s audio commentary, and how he rationalizes the film’s flat-line performance at the box office. (In short: “We made tons of money internationally! The marketing just sucked in the US! Yes, it was all about the marketing!”) The only time he comes close to admitting that the film isn’t all that good is when he idly muses about the disappointing nature of the last act, and why he would have remade it granted a few more million dollars. (Which, coming after numerous mentions of how the production blew money in the wind, is enough to make even big-budget movie fans wish for more El Mariachi films.) So what else is new? If you’ve seen the film in theatres and feel no particular affection for Bay’s energetic direction, skip the DVD and save yourself a few hours.

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