"Transformers" Screws the Audience

Michael Bay takes viewers for a bad ride in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Giant robot testicles. An emoting Megan Fox. John Turturro's naked ass, in close-up. It's all in a day's work for anti-filmmaker Michael Bay, whose latest cinematic house of horrors should have gone straight to the junkyard of late-night cable television.

It's kind of hard to go wrong with giant robots, which makes the gargantuan failures of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen even more impressive. Bay's latest sensory assault is a joyless cacophony of relentlessly dull and incoherent action sequences punctuated by blatant misogyny, racial stereotyping, and robot fart jokes. Twelve-year-old boys will be in heaven, but everyone else should proceed with extreme caution.

Before you write me off as an uppity film shrew, let me tell you that, in spite of Bay's involvement, I really enjoyed 2007's Transformers. It was a fun, surprisingly clever bit of escapism that still finds its way into my DVD player from time to time. I even like Shia LeBeouf, for God's sake. Unfortunately the wit, charm, and spectacle that made the first flick so likeable are nowhere to be found in this pointless sequel.

To give you a truly coherent breakdown of the gobbledygook that passes for the movie's plot, I'd have to see it again, and I'm just not blessed with that level of professional dedication. I'll do my best, though: Sam Witwicky (LeBeouf) is headed off to college, leaving his girlfriend and his pet giant robot behind. He doesn't want anything to do with the ongoing war between the Autobots and Decepticons; Sam just wants to be a "normal kid." (Raise your hand if you've ever heard a college student refer to himself as a "kid.")

Sam's girlfriend, Mikaela Banes (Fox), has her hands full keeping her ex-con father in line, but her biggest problem is that she can't get Sam to tell her he loves her. As for Sam's biggest problem, well, that's hard to say. Maybe it's that his mother hangs around campus eating pot brownies, or that his roommate is a Michael Bay fan who plasters his walls with Bad Boys II movie posters. Probably, though, it's that he has accidentally acquired information that the bad giant robots desperately need, and that the good giant robots must prevent them from getting. Squishing Sam with a giant robot toe would have been an obvious solution, but Autobots just don't do that sort of thing. So lots of stuff happens and everyone somehow ends up in Egypt, where they have to save the world by assaulting some pyramids.

The biggest surprise that Revenge offers is that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, it was not written by remedial hamsters. It was, in fact, penned by a competent trio of screenwriters whose credits include Arlington Road, Mission: Impossible III, and even this year's sublime Star Trek. Wow. Go figure.

So the plot is asinine. But let's be honest: We don't go see movies like this for the plot. We go for the spectacle—for the sheer joy of seeing amazing things on a 40-foot screen. It's easy to assume Revenge of the Fallen would at least deliver the goods in that department, but it doesn't. The poorly filmed and sloppily edited action sequences offer no thrills, and the digital sleight-of-hand, while technically impressive, is bland and repetitive. Its soul-killing running time, falling just short of two-and-a-half hours, doesn't help.

Movies like this have a built-in mechanism for luring unsuspecting prey, kind of like the little dangly things stuck to the foreheads of those horrific deep-sea teethfish. It's easy for us to dismiss negative reviews on the grounds that maybe the movie up for consideration just isn't the sort of thing critics like. We're right about that just often enough to keep us shelling out our bucks for irredeemable garbage like Revenge of the Fallen. They'll keep making 'em, and we'll keep lining up on opening night. But maybe we'll eventually learn to be a bit more circumspect, at least when Bay is involved. We are, after all, talking about a guy who describes his cinematic technique as "[screwing] the frame." (His wording is more alliterative, but you get the idea.) This time around, though, it wasn't just the frame that got screwed.