By Kyle | July 3, 2007
Kyle Smith review of TRANSFORMERS
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Rated PG-13 (action violence, brief sexual humor, profanity)
“Transformers” knows its demographic. A computer hacker being sweated by the FBI protests, “IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a virgin!” The actor who says these words is 36. At another point, a guy shopping for a car with his dad protests that he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want a beater because it says “40-year-old virgin” to him. That one over there? It says “50-year-old virgin.” Members of the audience will titter nervously, thinking about their large collections of factory-sealed action figures. But no matter. Perhaps their Jedi mastery of “Grand Theft Auto” will make Natalie Portman show up at their door?
“Transformers” firesÃ‚Â up the same boy glands as a demolition derby, andÃ‚Â it at least offers an original story when most of its competitors haveÃ‚Â numerals in their titles. I challenge you to name another movie about a friendly alien robot come to save the world while disguised as a bitchinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ yellow Camaro.
On the other hand, the originality of “Transformers” is borrowed–fromÃ‚Â “The Terminator,” “Gremlins,” “Starship Troopers,” “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds.” As for thatÃ‚Â cheery lemon Camaro Ã¢â‚¬â€ which calls itself “Bumblebee” and gives its young lovers a little nudge by playing “Sexual Healing” on its radio and steering them to Makeout Point–isn’t itÃ‚Â really just an intergalacticÃ‚Â Herbie the Love Bug?
Shia LaBeouf plays the carÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s owner, a doofus who uses show-and-tell (they still have that–for eleventh graders? Actually, I’m not surprised)Ã‚Â to try to hawkÃ‚Â junk like an old pair of eyeglasses left him by his great-grandfather, an Arctic explorer. No one on earth wants this stuff Ã¢â‚¬â€ but on other planets, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hot property. Robots from outer space notice the specs (IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not making thisÃ‚Â up) on eBay andÃ‚Â realize they contain a code the aliens need to find “the cube,” which is the secret to their civilization and which was lost somewhere on earth after the arctic explorer discovered it. So do the spacebots put down a bid and await delivery from the Universal Parcel Service? No, they invade earth disguised as machines and start attacking everything from Air Force One to AmericanÃ‚Â troops in Qatar, which allows us the opportunity to witness lots of Army vs. Doombot shootouts backed byÃ‚Â dialogue like, “Bogeys in the weeds ten miles out, no squawking.” And no anchovies, while you’re at it.
AÃ‚Â rival group of metal-man visitors also checks in,Ã‚Â but these tinpots respect humans and try to protect us by destroying the bad Ã¢â‚¬â„¢bots. They even talk, to LaBeouf (they learned our language on the Web). One of them speaks fluent Homeboy.
Whew. Lot of effort for one pair of used glasses. There are two excellent reasons for these deep-space warriors to disguise themselves as machines: to sell toys, and to furnish lots of Michael Bay-devised shots ofÃ‚Â huge trucks, zippy sports cars, fighter jets and even a boom box transforming into robots and back.
There is no story reason for any of this, however. Once their secret is out, the Transformers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take a lot of Clark Kentish precautions to hide; theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢reÃ‚Â 100-foot fighting monsters who can infiltrate any computer at will and whose every step causes the streets to shudder, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re proud of being more indestructible than Dick Clark. Why should such anÃ‚Â almighty armyÃ‚Â care if we’reÃ‚Â on to them? Did the aliens in “War of the Worlds” try toÃ‚Â throw us off their trail by transforming themselves into toasters?
While weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re waiting for the movie to get on with it and serve up the big battle (which it eventually does, with a 30-minute smash-and-crash that didn’t provide a lotÃ‚Â more excitement than playing Hot Wheels with my brother in 1979), itÃ‚Â transforms itself into a suburban sitcom. In one endless scene, various good Transformers Ã¢â‚¬â€ massive machines disguised as monster trucks Ã¢â‚¬â€ hide themselvesÃ‚Â outside the LaBeouf characterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house while he rolls his eyes at the cluelessness of his parents, who know he’s up to something but think it’s masturbation. The scene is important, though,Ã‚Â to the viewers it’s aimed at, whoÃ‚Â were born in the Clinton administration; key to any kiddie fantasy is the idea that we can’t let the lame old folks in on our secret world.
The action, which is very action-y, grabs the imagination less than theÃ‚Â childish fun that lies in theÃ‚Â notion that your car, or even your vaccuum cleaner, may harbor ambitions to seize the world. And, so as not to frighten the little ones too much, care is taken to make the machines adorable. The little boombox, who first turns himself into an impish steel Gremlin, then makes a lot of cuteÃ‚Â frustration sounds (part Pac Man, part R2-D2) whenever he is foiled, is basically a bad-tempered pet—down, Rover, stop stealing top-secret data!–while another Transformer is even more doglike: heÃ‚Â actually urinates on an enemy.
At its best, like “The Matrix,” the movie makes you think twice about the world around you: as I lost interest in the ker-powingÃ‚Â onscreen I found myself wondering about all of the real human beings who act suspiciouslyÃ‚Â every day. For instance,Ã‚Â with the rotation ofÃ‚Â a flap here and the rearrangement of a torso there,Ã‚Â might Christopher WalkenÃ‚Â turn out to beÃ‚Â a cyborg from Alpha Centauri? But ifÃ‚Â advanced alien detectionÃ‚Â equipment ever arrives, the first person IÃ‚Â want to see it used on isÃ‚Â Tom Cruise.
There are a few amusing riffs to the Transformers story, such as an unexpected secret behind theÃ‚Â Hoover Dam and a surprise explanation for why technology took off in the 20th century. There’s a limit, though,Ã‚Â to how emotionally involved I’m going to get in watching digital renderings of machines trying to crush each other. “Autobot” is not only the name of theÃ‚Â good-guy machines; it would be a good name for whateverÃ‚Â softwareÃ‚Â churned out thisÃ‚Â script. By the time that last half-hour of rock ’em sock ’em robots comes along with a maximum of clang and roar, the only way the movie could possibly surprise you would be if it tucked in itsÃ‚Â joints and flipped its widgets and whirred itself inside outÃ‚Â until–bam! Before your very eyes, this thing has transformed itself intoÃ‚Â a Merchant Ivory film.