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The toy that does all the playing for/at you

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (aka "ROTFL" to those who are rolling on the floor laughing about it) reportedly cost somewhere between $200 and $300 million to make, and the only special effects the critics are talking about are the ones of humping dogs. Or maybe they're humping dog-bots.

Anyway, there's nothing like an Uwe Boll movie to bring on the critical invective. Did I say "Uwe Boll"? I mean Michael Bay, of course. How did I get those two confused? What I mean to say is that critics who hate this movie don't just hate this movie, they find it anti-movie.

Why? It's just a summer screen-filler, isn't it? Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com thinks it stinks:

"He's here -- I smell him." That's a line from "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," but funnily enough, it's also what I think every time I sit down to watch a Michael Bay movie.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says:

'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'' is -- there's no polite way to say this -- 2 1/2 hours of tumescence disguised as a motion picture. [...]

You don't have an inner teenage boy? Sorry, you're out of luck. The sequel to the 2007 summer hit "Transformers'' -- based on the Hasbro line of snap-together battle-bots and thus the ultimate toyification of American cinema -- offers nothing for mature adult sensibilities. On the contrary, it laughs at the very idea and then blows more stuff up. Fast, deafening, and dumb, the movie is total nonsense and will make a fortune. But it's a Michael Bay project, and the man does have the lack of shame to go with his deficiency in basic storytelling skills.

James Rocchi at MSN Movies writes:

... I have an inner child; he's just not an inner idiot. And if how much money something made had any correlation to how good it actually is, doctors would recommend you get more cocaine instead of more leafy greens. And no, I can't shut my brain off and have fun, anymore than I could rip out my tongue and enjoy a meal, because my brain is where I feel fun. And I could talk about the plot and characters and performances of "Revenge of the Fallen," but why should I care about those things when it's so clear that Bay doesn't? Many will walk out of "Revenge" praising the action and the special effects, but they'll be indicating that they don't know what they're talking about. The action is badly cut, confusing and incoherent, with no sense of space or distance or dynamism aside from close-ups of brutal blows and long shots of explosions. The effects are either too swift to be truly seen (Wasn't one of the pleasures of the Transformers toys slllllllowly ... clicking ... each change into place?) or so phony you can't bear to look (like when walking big-rig Optimus Prime, a giant multiton mass of metal, moves and fights with the lithe lightness of a 12-year-old gymnast). "Revenge of the Fallen" isn't good; it's just expensive, and while Michael Bay can't tell the difference between those things, a reasonably intelligent person can.

It sounds like he had a bad time. Roger Ebert certainly did. He writes:

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

Many of the reviews mentioned that adults are not exactly this movie's target demographic. So, should this movie perhaps be regarded as another plastic Hasbro product rather than... say, a motion picture? Except that, if you look at it that way, it's a toy that does all the playing for you -- and at you -- rather than engaging your own storytelling imagination?

Ebert, on the other hand, claims that "ROTFL" "will be studied in film classes and shown at cult film festivals" because it marks the end of an era of some sort:

If there is one thing everyone in Hollywood thinks they know for sure, it's that the three most important words in movie development are story, story, story. This is not a story: A group of inconsequential human characters watch animation.

Yet, on some level, "ROTLF" is still ostensibly a narrative film -- a series of images that sketch out a series of events in which semi-identifiable humanoids (or avatars) are present, if not involved or involving -- no matter how deficient its grammar, storytelling skills or character development may be. (No, wait, it's "Godardian," right? Bay is cleverly deconstructing conventional movie constructs? To paraphrase Rocchi: Can a reasonably intelligent person tell the difference?)

So, you may ask, what good do reviews of a "Transformers" sequel do, besides providing a few million readers with some pretty energetic and entertaining copy? (Above is Wordle word cloud I made from some of the early reviews, after filtering out the most common names and figures of speech.) Surely nobody expects "RFLTO" to contribute anything of value to the art of cinema. But it might. If nothing else, it's a contemporary cultural artifact. Why shouldn't people write whatever they want about it?

P.S. Armond White, ever the contrarian, kinda likes it, possibly because he knew his despised critical fraternity would not:

Why waste spleen on Michael Bay? He's a real visionary--perhaps mindless in some ways (he's never bothered filming a good script), but "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is more proof he has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement. [...]

Bay is an ideal director to realize this peculiar genre, which remakes the surfeit of adolescent commercial media as a means of multimedia gratification.

I'm waiting for the ad blurb, aren't you?

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