(PG-13) 2.5 StarsEd Johnson-Ott
I was ready for The Island. After the gloom of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins and War of the Worlds, and the chintzy heroics of Fantastic Four, I was in the mood for a traditional summer quasi sci-fi action blockbuster. Something big. Something stupid. Something like The Island, the latest from Michael Bay, director of Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and other cheeseball opuses. Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) fights to reveal the truth.
Bay delivers, more or less. The Island starts off with a highly derivative, but still intriguing premise, then devolves into a series of overblown chase scenes employing computer graphics, real-life stuntmen and massive sets, before wrapping up with a phenomenally implausible rescue attempt. Though not as entertaining as I'd hoped, the movie gets the job done, but it requires that viewers are willing to turn off their brains. Absolutely. I'm not kidding here. You must question nothing, no matter how preposterous. The logic employed in this flick is as fragile as an Etch-a-Sketch landscape. Don't shake it up by thinking.
The story, ripped off from Logan's Run, Coma and The Clonus Horror, goes like this: In 2019, a large group of people (two attractive movie stars and a horde of character actors) live a highly-ordered life in a dull, antiseptic underground refuge. They are survivors of a catastrophe that killed the rest of mankind. The only other habitable place on Earth is a distant paradise known as the Island. Each week a lottery is held and the winner gets to move to the Island where they can bask in the sunshine for the rest of their life. The dreary existence of the residents is made bearable by the hope of the lottery.
Alas, as anyone that saw a TV commercial for the movie can attest, everything the residents believe is a lie. In fact, they are the clones of wealthy or influential people in the still-thriving outside world, created by the evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) as organ gardens. To appease his customers, Merrick tells them that the clones are kept in a permanent vegetative state and that the minds never achieve consciousness. Bad doctor!
All hell breaks loose when clone Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) finds out that the Island is a lie and that all the lottery champions were killed for their body parts. Snagging his pal Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), the most recent "winner," he escapes the complex, aided by McCord (Steve Buscemi), a caustic, but sympathetic maintenance worker. Dr. Merrick quickly hires ex-Special Forces commander Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) and his troops (they are very bad at their jobs) to capture the clones before they spill the beans and wreck his creepy empire. And so the chase is on, with all the splashy visuals and loud noises you would expect from Michael Bay.
As he did with Armageddon, Bay peoples his big budget movie mostly with actors from the world of indie films. Scarlett Johansson is best known for her star-making performance in Lost in Translation, a charming, evocative little film which apparently bored the bejeesus out of the general public, many of whom dropped me a line to voice their displeasure. Ewan McGregor is famed for his work as a Jedi master in the recent Star Wars trilogy, but before that he was known as a respected indie actor prone to displaying his penis on screen (those wishing to check out his kenobi should rent The Pillow Book, a beautiful, meditative film that will likely bore the bejeesus out of the general audience). Both actors are serviceable here, though Johansson's performance is perhaps a bit too airy. Steve Buscemi makes a strong impression during his too-brief appearance, and the rest of the cast is fine.
The Island succeeds, barely, as escapist fare pretending to be something more. You would be well-served to remind yourself that it isn't before the theater goes dark. Just keep saying, "This is a Michael Bay movie. Stupid is as stupid does."