Muscle car madness

A '76 Camaro is out to save the world in the action-comedy 'Transformers'

Posted: July 03, 2007

THE FIRST WORDS that appear on screen in "Transformers" are: "In Association With Hasbro."

That's fair. It gives you a chance to flee the theater if you don't want to see a $200 million, 2 1/2-hour, ear-splitting movie based on a children's toy.

For you, there's always Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep in "Evening."

Many, however, will choose to stay, even after seeing the words "Directed by Michael Bay." They include kids who play with little trucks that transform into a robot, and those who wait until their wife and kids go to bed so they can play with little trucks that turn into robots.

In fact, I think it was during a screening of Bay's "Pearl Harbor" that I wished I'd brought along a transformer - something to bide time while waiting to learn if World War II was going to interfere with a romance between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale.

Bay is probably better off leaving the Pacific Theater to Clint Eastwood. But he may be the perfect guy to make "Transformers," a ride-pimping extravaganza dedicated to the proposition that a '76 Camaro can save the world.

And get girls, which is the whole point of saving the world. I think this is what Al Qaeda guys don't get about the West, about car culture. You've got terrorists in England filling a perfectly good late-model Mercedes with propane and nails in order to kill people so they can reach heaven and its bounty of 72 virgins. So many extra steps. The purpose of the Mercedes is that it can be filled with girls right away.

Anyway, if there's one thing "Transformers" understands, it's the boy-meets-car story. It casts the appealing Shia LaBeouf (hot off "Suburbia") as Sam Witwicky, a teen whose life as an overlooked high school misfit takes a turn when he gets his first hot rod.

Actually, the car gets him. Amusing scenes show the driverless Camaro stalking Sam, staking out a spot in a used car lot and making sure Sam makes the right choice.

The yellow muscle car not only attracts the prettiest girl in school (the aptly named Megan Fox), it helps Sam with a few romantic moves - its AM radio has the right song at the ready to set the mood.

All of this is handled with a ample sense of humor, the better to prepare viewers for the movie's goofy premise. Sam's car is really a transformer - it morphs at will into a giant robot. It is, as luck would have it, a good robot, harbinger of a war between good and bad robots from another galaxy that threatens to engulf and destroy the earth.

Sam turns out to be the key in tipping the balance in favor of the good guys, but the struggle against the bad robots also involves a team of Army rangers (Tyros, Josh Duhamel), computer hackers (Anthony Anderson, Rachel Taylor) slippery government operatives (John Torture, Jon Fight), and General Motors Corp., whose products are placed in this movie with a shamelessness that itself becomes a joke. (There's also a rare sighting of the Boeing Osprey, probably the world's first and most expensive transformer.)

Everyone in the likable cast grasps the spirit of this grand, cheesy adventure, which Bay presents as an action-effects comedy with the emphasis decidedly on comedy.

"Transformers" chugs merrily along until it approaches the two-hour mark, at which point it starts to display Bay's infamous belief that audiences should be entertained and also pulverized.

To the point of exhaustion. The 30-minute climactic robot Armageddon - Hummers, helicopters, jets, tanks morphine and smashing and blowing up - is about 29 minutes too long. It gives you that "King Long" feeling - the feeling that some directors like computer-generated f/x way more than you. *

Produced by Don Murphy, Tom De Santo, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Ian Bryce, directed by Michael Bay, written by Roberto Oris, Alex Courtesan, distributed by Paramount Pictures.

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