Save for the CGI, ‘Transformers’ is a dud

Transformers, Michael Bay’s mega-film about robotic aliens, is a visual feast for the eyes. The CGI is perfectly rendered, and some of the action sequences are beautifully realized.

That said, the actual movie is a mishmash, middling affair with weak characterization and not much of a plot. The computer graphics are the film’s only redeeming quality; what a pity to waste so much money with so little backbone.

Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a slightly nerdy kid who lusts after his high school crush, Mikaela Banes (the always hot Megan Fox). Sam lives at home with his lovable parents, Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White), and all seems to be well with the world.

When Sam’s father takes him to buy a new car, things start to go awry. The old yellow Camaro that Sam chooses in the used-car parking lot (from a funny salesman played by the late Bernie Mac) turns out to be Bumblebee, an Autobot who can’t speak, but can divulge his emotions through various songs on the radio.

The Autobots are a race of aliens who have raged war against the sinister Decepticons. The good guys are headed by Optimus Prime, while the bad guys are headed by Megatron. Like The Lord of the Rings, the two sides fight over a mysterious object known as an Allspark, which has the power of ruling over everything and everyone.

Sam doesn’t choose Bumblebee out of pure coincidence. This teenager’s grandfather actually stumbled upon Megatron when researching in the Arctic Ocean. The Decepticon leader was imprisoned in the ice, but still able to imprint the map to the Allspark on the glasses of Dr. Archibald Witwicky, Sam’s grandfather.

Sam is now in possession of his grandfather’s glasses with the map to the Allspark. The Autobots step up to protect that secret, while the Decepticons begin to wreak havoc and try to free Megatron from his icy grave.

There’s a side plot involving Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as soldiers in the deserts of Qatar. But the entire storyline is the definition of extraneous. Sam is where the action is, and Sam is where Transformers should remain focused.

The acting is passable. LaBeouf knows how to perform these roles with his eyes closed. He’s a pesky, smart-talking teenager, much like most of the other roles in his resume. Fox is all cleavage and lusciousness. There’s not much to the character, and the actress doesn’t add anything. I found White’s turn as Sam’s mother quite funny, but, for the most part, Transformers is owned by the CGI creations, not the fleshy ones.

There is more personality and nuance in Bumblebee and Optimus Prime than any of the human actors. This obviously shows the double-edged sword that is Michael Bay’s cinematic output. His visuals are something to behold, but rarely are they backed up with realistic characters and sound plots. The script, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, is a paint-by-numbers action flick.

1. Introduce the good guys.

2. Introduce the bad guys.

3. Throw in a government leader (Jon Voight as Defense Secretary John Keller) or two (John Turturro as Agents Simmons)

4. Have the good guys beat the bad guys.

5. Have the hero kiss the girl.

6. Roll credits.

For a movie that seems so technologically advanced, Transformers proves to be quite mundane and ordinary.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Transformers

  • 2007

  • Directed by Michael Bay

  • Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by Orci, Kurtzman and John Rogers

  • Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Julie White, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, John Turturro and Kevin Dunn

  • Running time: 144 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language

  • Bubble score: 2.5 out of 4

  • Click here to purchase Transformers on DVD.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

One thought on “Save for the CGI, ‘Transformers’ is a dud

  • December 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm
    Permalink

    … the film is entertaining, it tells a story, and the good-guys win. What more do you want?

    Reply

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