Big Robots Doing Stuff

Review: “Transformers 3”

No plot, just lots of visual roller coaster hoo-ha

Movie critics love bad movies, and don’t let any one of us tell you differently.  Oh sure, no one likes to have to sit through a bad movie, but being able to rip it a new one in a public forum results in a certain cathartic satisfaction.

So you can imagine my giddy anticipation when it came to seeing the assuredly awful “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” I like to think it’s a lot like Albert Pujols must feel when some hapless pitcher hangs a curveball over the middle of the plate. So you can see how let down I was when I discovered I was enjoying myself for sizeable stretches of the movie.

Seeing how this is the third “Transformers” movie you can see how my expectations would be pretty well set in stone. I actually enjoyed the first film for the mindless fun that it was as it put me in the same mind-space of being 12-years-old and throwing a lit roll of Black Cats behind my little sister’s chair. The second “Transformers” movie was so incomprehensibly terrible that it was impossible to enjoy on even the most base levels.

This time around, the third “Transformers” does get back to basics in a sense, but don’t let me mislead you into thinking that this film – as a movie – isn’t a complete and total failure, because it is. As pure spectacle, however it is a stunning visual achievement that will blow away even the most jaded of cinematic thrillseekers.

I am going to follow director Michael Bay’s lead and not bother you with the plot. Just know that there are good and bad alien robots that disguise themselves as vehicles and they fight. That’s about it.

Among the movie’s flaws is that it is overlong by roughly one hour, clocking in at 153 minutes. When you consider it took Terrence Malick roughly the same amount of time to encapsulate the creation of the entire universe in “Tree of Life,” you’d think we could get alien robots to resolve their differences in about an hour and a half.

Returning is Shia LaBeouf as the moderately obnoxious Sam Witwicky, pal to the good-guy Autobots. Gone is Megan Fox, as it turns out she wasn’t as beautiful and unique a snowflake as she thought. She is easily replaced by Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Sam’s impossibly-hot girlfriend. I guess being obscenely attractive and being filmed while running in slow-motion doesn’t require a highly-specialized skill set.

There are some strange turns by reasonably respected actors like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey. John Turturro also returns as the unhinged agent Simmons. I like to think the “Transformers” trilogy exists for the sole purpose of landing the underappreciated Turturro a huge payday. In a strange way helps me sleep a little better at night.

When humans are on the screen, the movie is bizarrely uninteresting and it feels like each actor is playing a character from a completely different, unrelated movie. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that the cast showed up totally hammered every day of production.

But let’s be honest, we’re not here for the people, we’re here for the fighting robots! “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the first movie since “Avatar” that I can in good conscious recommend paying the extra money to see in 3D.  Bay makes impressive use of a technology Hollywood has pretty much squandered up to this point.

I would also like to point out that this is certainly the most violent of the three movies and parents would be wise to pay heed to the “PG-13” rating unless you want to deal with a lot of killer-robot nightmares.

The last hour of the movie, which features the systematic destruction of Chicago, is an unrelenting succession of astounding action set-pieces. A couple of times I actually felt the sensation of being on a roller coaster.

Perhaps that’s the best description of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon:” a sensory-assaulting amusement-park ride, devoid of story or emotion that leaves your pulse racing, your stomach queasy and your head light enough to think it would be a good idea to get in line again.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

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