No vacation found in 'The Island'

by John Kim | 7/28/05 5:00am

While shooting the asteroid opus "Armageddon," Ben Affleck reportedly asked director Michael Bay why NASA would train a group of drillers to become astronauts, when training astronauts to become drillers would be infinitely easier.

Bay responded by telling Affleck to shut up.

That says everything you need to know about Michael Bay, currently competing with partner-in-crap Brett Ratner for the title of "World's Worst Director." The shame is not in being outsmarted by Ben Affleck, who is actually known for his deceptive intelligence (if not his discerning taste in movie roles or women). Rather, the story demonstrates Bay's complete disregard for anything resembling coherence in his productions.

Some critics might tell you that the "The Island" is smarter than the cinematic turds that Bay has released in the past. Those critics are lying. The man is an irredeemable hack and one of the stupidest people on the planet; skillful filmmaking is simply beyond his capabilities.

Bay's latest catastrophe centers on Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), a man who lives in a Stepford-ian utopia in order to escape the "contamination" of the outside world. Every day, a chosen few in this society are selected for deportation to "The Island," an elusive paradise where inhabitants can spend the rest of their days worry-free.

However, Lincoln inevitably discovers that "The Island" is a sham and that the citizens of the society are actually clones whose organs are being harvested as an "insurance policy" for wealthy clients in the real world. Lincoln, therefore, goes on the run with the beautiful Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) in order to escape his fate. But the bad guys are obviously not about to let the pair go so easily.

The premise is auspicious -- if not exactly original -- but the execution is typically inept. Knowing that he can't depend on his "natural talent," Bay instead steals liberally from every single action movie in the history of time, including "Logan's Run," "Die Hard," "True Lies," "Heat" and "Total Recall." Do you remember watching "Blade Runner" and thinking, "This is a good film, but I wish it were dumber?" Michael Bay apparently does.

Bay copies these films, but he does so incompetently, choosing to rely on his crack-addict camerawork and his stash of empty visual tricks.

I tried to tally the number of jump cuts in the movie but lost count somewhere around 4,000. And I would recommend creating a drinking game out of Michael Bay's love affair with pointless slow-motion, but I fear that such a game could be mistaken for a hazing ritual.

What is Ewan McGregor thinking? After working with directorial greats such as Ridley Scott and Tim Burton, one imagines that acting in a Michael Bay film is the equivalent of being traded from the New York Mets to the New York Yankees. McGregor could care less about this movie, and it shows. In fact, the most noticeable aspect of McGregor in the film is not anything in his performance but rather the grotesque wart on his forehead.

Scarlett Johansson is being touted as the next great American actress, yet her performances are actually quite inconsistent. She may be heartbreakingly gorgeous, but you never know if you're going to get Johansson or "The Scarlet-Tron." In "Lost in Translation," she was luminous because her low-key approach was appropriate for the subtle nature of the film. But replace Sofia Coppola with a crapweasel like Bay, and suddenly, Johansson's mannerisms become unsettlingly robotic.

You would think that any love scene involving Johansson would be inherently sexy, but you underestimate Bay's gift for sucking. Moreover, after one instance when Johansson exclaims, "Good job!" the shot just continues to linger on her in a scene so awkward it's as if Bay was staring at her breasts and forgot that the camera was on.

Bay does tackle the contentious stem-cell debate in an attempt to be "high-minded," but just because a person talks about something doesn't mean he's contributing anything valuable to the discourse (Anyone who's ever sat in on a lower-level government class or listened to one of Tom Cruise's asinine rants on "the history of psychiatry" will corroborate this). Indeed, Bay's clumsy anti-stem-cell message is similar to being whacked in the head with a George W. Bush-sized mallet.

Then again, "The Island" was supposed to be dumb; after all, this is the same director who had the "Bad Boys" invade the nation of Cuba. But the gravest sin of "The Island" is that it's just damn boring. As my friend lamented to me at one point, "It's been an hour and a half and nothing's blown up yet!"

Cars flip, windows break and random redshirts engage in tedious gunplay, but "The Island" does not come near the absurd extremes of Bay's previous work. That would be a good thing for most directors, but over-the-top idiocy was the only thing Bay had going for him. Without that, he's just another moron with a camera, not even worthy of a derisive laugh.

Five years ago, I would have excused this film for "being good for what it is," but there comes a certain point when more needs to be demanded from one's entertainment. Michael Bay doesn't respect you; the truth is that he thinks you're an idiot. You can do better. Leave "The Island" behind.